Seemingly each offseason Florida Gators basketball fans refill their blood pressure medication as NBA general managers and teams come to Gainesville in an effort to sweep Billy Donovan off his feet and swoop him away from Gainesville.
This year is no different, except, maybe, it is.
Multiple sources — Yahoo! Sports first — have reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder — who just fired head coach Scott Brooks — have pinpointed Donovan as the guy they want to take over their franchise. Yahoo! Sports reported that Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday — again, not uncommon for this to happen in the offseason — to meet with Donovan and those negotiations have continued on into Wednesday with Oklahoma City getting ready to present a formal offer to Donovan.
Why is this different? Last year Donovan reportedly turned down Cleveland and Minnesota when those franchises approached him.
The difference this season is that Oklahoma City has arguably two of the top-10 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In the NBA, more times than not, the team with the best player on the court wins. With Durant and Westbrook, that is almost always the case and the Thunder have the recent history to prove that having been to the NBA Finals just three years ago.
The opportunity to coach those two players makes this different than any other offer that has presented itself to Donovan.
Sure, Kevin Durant missed most of the season with a foot injury that eventually needed a bone graph to fix, and he is going to be a free agent in 2016. Russell Westbrook will also be able to test the free agent waters in 2017.
When presented with these facts, Donovan must then begin to think about the decision that will ultimately change and shape the rest of his coaching career.
Donovan came to Gainesville 19 years ago and built the basketball program from the ground up. He put in time, competed with some of the best coaches in the history of the game and eventually put his name alongside those giants when he led the Gators to back-to-back National Championships in 2006-07. Donovan has led the Florida Gators to four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. He has elevated himself onto the Mount Rushmore of Florida Gators coaches and his name will likely be etched onto the hardwood in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center some day.
Donovan has never closed the door on making a jump to the NBA. In 2007, he flirted with and even went through a shotgun wedding with the Orlando Magic. That marriage lasted all of six days before Donovan returned to Gainesville. That Magic roster did include Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Jameer Nelson and JJ Reddick but it was far from the powerhouse that Oklahoma City could be.
Family played a factor in Donovan returning in 2007 and it will likely play a factor again. Donovan has four children, one who is still in high school and a daughter in eighth grade. Making a move like this affects them and is something Donovan will take heavily into consideration when weighing his options. He’s also firmly and deeply entrenched in the Gainesville community.
The difference that seven years and a better opportunity make could be the final factor.
Jobs like this — with the pieces in place — don’t often come around. In Gainesville, job security isn’t ever on Donovan’s mind. He’s the best basketball coach in the program’s history and one of the best in the country. Job security is almost non-existent in the NBA. Greg Popovich has been with the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 but the next longest tenured head coach is Erik Spoelstra, who took over the Miami Heat in 2008 (seven years). If Durant leaves in 2016 and Westbrook follows in 2017, Donovan will be faced with a rebuild where he doesn’t have the safety net that he does in Gainesville, as he continues to rebuild the Florida Gators coming off of a disappointing season.
This could be it for him, though.
Turning down this job, the opportunity to coach, at least for a season, two of the best players in the NBA, shows every other team in the league that, maybe, Donovan isn’t as serious as they thought he was about making the jump to the NBA. How could a coach with a young, unproven roster come to Donovan after turning down Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and confidently pitch Donovan to take over their lottery team?
If Donovan were to turn down the deal that is reportedly coming soon, he would enter his 20th season as the head coach at Florida — entering into Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski status as lifers at their universities.
Leaving Gainesville to take the head-coaching job at Oklahoma City is a gamble, but it would be Donovan placing a bet on himself. He would have to believe that he could persuade Durant to stick it out in Oklahoma City and then convince Westbrook to stay a year later.
In Gainesville, Donovan is fighting an uphill battle in recruiting. John Calipari seems to cherry pick top-10 recruits each season and the SEC has added heavyweight names like Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) into the fold. Not to mention recruiting against the likes of Williams and Krzyzewski.
So there it is, all laid out on the table, pros and cons.
The opportunity that Presti flew down to Gainesville with is once in a lifetime. There are caveats concealed in the fine print but, still, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
On the other hand, Donovan is a legend in Gainesville. Stay in Gainesville and continue to build upon an already impressive résumé and further cement your legacy in the history books.
One day the court in Gainesville will have Billy Donovan’s name emblazoned on it.
He’s earned it.
The question now is, will Donovan still be coaching the Gators when that happens?