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The Oklahoma City Thunder have signed Billy Donovan, the winningest coach in Florida Gators history, it was announced Thursday.
Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and Andy Katz that Donovan has agreed to a multiyear deal to replace Scott Brooks, who was fired as coach of the Thunder after seven seasons on April 22.
Donovan spent the past 19 years as coach of the Gators, with whom he won two national championships and appeared in four Final Fours.
“I am honored and humbled to be named the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I knew that it would take a unique opportunity to leave the University of Florida and that is clearly how I look at this situation,” Donovan said in a statement. “The Thunder represents so many of the values that I embrace as a head coach; the commitment to the team above oneself, the dedicated pursuit of excellence, the commitment to organizational culture, the identity they have established and the fact that the Thunder and the community are so intricately woven into the fabric of one another.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who had made regular trips to Gaineville to scout prospects and observed Donovan as well, did not interview any other candidates for the position. Presti and Donovan have a previous strong relationship and have similar ideas about team culture and advanced metrics. That could provide added organizational synergy, something Presti highly values.
“While we created a comprehensive analysis regarding the qualities we were looking for, it became quite evident that Billy was the ideal fit for the Thunder as we look to transition our team into the future,” Presti said in a statement. “… His emotional intelligence, commitment to the concept of team, and relentless approach to incremental improvement have allowed him to bring his players together and establish lasting relationships through competitive success. Billy’s core values and alignment with our culture and community, as well as his proven tactical abilities, make him an ideal addition to the Thunder organization.”
The Thunder have hired two of Donovan’s staffers in the past year, bringing in Mark Daigneault to coach the team’s D-League affiliate (the Oklahoma City Blue), and Oliver Winterbone as an information analyst.
Donovan takes over a Thunder team with championship aspirations, particularly in what will be a high-pressure season with Kevin Durant entering the final year of his contract. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Durant has been sending “optimistic signals” about playing for Donovan, having done his own research on the coach.
The Thunder job is Donovan’s second in the NBA, but he has never coached a game in the league. He agreed to become the Orlando Magic’s coach in 2007 after back-to-back titles with the Gators, only to reverse course days later and ask out of his contract.
Donovan is coming off his first losing season since 1998, as the Gators went 16-17 in 2014-15 and missed postseason play for the first time since 1997. Along with the two national titles, he led Florida to four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and 14 NCAA tournament berths.
“The University of Florida will always hold a very special place in my heart and in my family’s,” Donovan said. “… I have a deep appreciation for what the University of Florida will always mean to me and I’ll forever be a Gator.”
He had signed a one-year contract extension with the Gators in December that would have paid him an average salary of $4 million through 2020.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Donovan’s 467 career wins at Florida are second all-time in SEC history to legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp (867).
Combined with his two seasons at Marshall, Donovan’s 502 wins over 21 seasons are tied for fifth all time in Division I history with Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
“While we are certainly extremely sad to see Billy go, the primary feeling I have is one of gratitude for what he has done here,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Billy and Florida basketball have been synonymous for a long time now, and our program would not have reached the heights it has without him.
“The legacy he leaves here is one of personal and professional excellence. … There is no better person than Billy Donovan. He will truly be missed.”
Foley said Florida would not put a timeline on hiring a replacement for Donovan and that a search committee will help find a successor.
Donovan, who will turn 50 next month, has flirted with making the transition to the NBA for a while, and he was courted last offseason by both the Timberwolves and Cavaliers for their then-vacant positions.
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Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love underwent surgery on his dislocated left shoulder Wednesday afternoon, and he is projected to need four to six months to recover, the team announced.
The operation was performed by Dr. David W. Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and Love’s rehabilitation will be conducted by the Cavs, according to the team. Love, playing in his first postseason as a pro, was hurt when he got tangled with Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk while chasing a loose ball in the first quarter of the Cavs’ closeout win Sunday. Olynyk clamped down on Love’s arm and pulled so hard that it popped out of the shoulder joint.
Love underwent an MRI and other tests Monday. His injury was officially listed as an acute anterior inferior glenohumeral dislocation with the corresponding ligament/labrum tearing and humeral head bone bruising.
The Cavaliers had mentally prepared themselves to be without Love for the remainder of the postseason, with general manager David Griffin saying Tuesday it was “highly unlikely” that the former All-Star would return.
Cleveland will face the Chicago Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks winner starting Monday.
Love was in his first season with Cleveland, which acquired him last summer in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The seven-year veteran struggled at times during a bumpy season with the Cavs. He can opt out of his contract this summer and become a free agent.
Griffin has expressed optimism about Love staying with the Cavs beyond this summer, however.
“We were playing at a tremendous level and getting the full extent of Kevin, so it’s very difficult to have that taken away from you,” Griffin said this week. “At the same time, I think he realizes we’re set up to potentially be pretty good in the future, and he’s excited about being part of that, too.”
In an interview with “The Dan Patrick Show” in March, Love said, “I plan on being a Cavalier either way,” when asked whether Cleveland’s postseason showing would factor into his decision-making process.
The surgery caps a tumultuous season for Love. He averaged the fewest points (16.4 per game) since his second season and the fewest rebounds (9.7) since he was a rookie while failing to make the All-Star Game for just the second time since 2010. The other season he missed it in that span, 2012-13, he played just 18 games because of a hand injury.
There also was tension between Love and coach David Blatt at times. Love was benched in the fourth quarter of games on several occasions, and there was the tricky balance of trying to find him post touches (which he clamored for in speaking to the media), while needing him to stretch the floor to open up driving lanes for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Blatt also said Love was “not a max player” after a loss to Sacramento in January, a comment he later clarified.
James and Love had their controversies as well, with James making reference on social media to Love trying to “fit out” back in February, and with Love telling ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike that he and James are “not best friends” and telling Patrick that same day that he would vote for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook over James for league MVP.
Still, Love was playing highly effective basketball at the start of the playoffs, averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 47.4 percent on 3-pointers through the Cavs’ 3-0 start against Boston.
Time will tell whether Love’s comments at his introductory news conference with Cleveland back in August will ring true.
“I’m committed to this team and committed long term to the end goal, and that’s to win championships and to win a championship here in Ohio,” Love said.
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