It’s a weird thing. The NBA season is at its current peak, with the most focus on the sport as ever, and the Thunder aren’t involved. The offseason already feels long, and it’s only going to get longer.
But still, there’s a palpable excitement building already for next season. The Thunder have their coach, and next on the to-do list is beat the odds and land a top three pick in the lottery on May 19.
It’s been two weeks since Billy Donovan was hired. The dust has settled, the reaction pieces have passed and the takes have cooled. Let’s take a look at the offseason so far.
1. Two weeks to think about it now: Grade Billy Donovan’s hire.
Royce Young: A-. I’m pretty firmly on record saying Scott Brooks deserved another season, but at the same time, that doesn’t change the fact the organization, and players themselves, were ready to move on. And that, not fairness, is what really matters. But it means that Donovan has a lot of pressure ahead. The reaction to his hire has been odd, because Donovan is an extremely accomplished coach. Think about it this way: Remember when people got fired up about Coach K based of a wild rumor? Well, imagine hiring Coach K at 49 years old. Because if you look at Donovan’s résumé, it lines up with Coach K’s almost identically at age 49.
So all things considered, outside of drawing Rick Carlisle away from the Mavs or Brad Stevens from the Celtics, what direction were the Thunder supposed to go? Which is my point all along: The question isn’t going to be who else the Thunder should’ve hired; it’s going to be, is the guy they hired better than the one they fired?
Michael Kimball: A. Two things are inarguably true about the Donovan hire. The first is that there was no realistic chance of hiring anyone who would be universally regarded as a slam dunk — Gregg Popovich isn’t heading north on Interstate 35 anytime soon. Who else is there? Everyone else is going to come with some risk and some unknowns.
The second is that, in any profession, this would be universally regarded as a smart hire: a well-regarded executive other top-level competitors have been trying unsuccessfully to lure for years who you know well enough to be pretty sure will be a good fit around the office. That’s what Donovan is. Sitting here in May, the Thunder have a guy who has been in-demand for a long time, and he apparently shares a common vision with his boss and, one would hope, the other people he’s going to work with. But now, of course, the grade is subject to an ongoing evaluation. Donovan hasn’t even rolled out a ball for practice yet.
John Napier: B. Yes, I thought Scott Brooks deserved another year. It’s unfair to pretend he had little to do with the development of the Thunder into perennial contenders. That being said, I certainly understood the logic in making a change. But for a coach with zero NBA coaching experience? That’s what confused me.
The Thunder will have one of the most talented rosters in the league next season. This hardly seems like the time to give even the most promising college coach his first NBA coaching gig (and yes, I know Brad Stevens had success in Boston with no NBA experience, but Boston isn’t competing for a championship). Really, the only reason the grade is a B and not a D is because Billy Donovan is indisputably one of the brightest minds in college basketball. So, I guess if you’re going to hire based upon potential, Donovan is an excellent choice.
2. Do you care whether or not players were consulted/happy with the hiring process?
Young: Not really. This whole thing has been only made a story for a simple reason: Because it’s May, the Thunder aren’t in the playoffs, and therefore, there’s nothing else to talk about. Plus, think about the origin here: The Russell Westbrook side of things came from an isolated report from a Sirius radio host that who knows who he knows. And yet that was somehow the foundation for 48 hours of talking head nonsense about it.
Durant wasn’t part of Scott Brooks’ firing. I’m very confident in saying that. And he wasn’t part of Billy Donovan’s hiring. I’m very confident in saying that too. But he is in OKC rehabbing at the practice facility, and like Presti said, it’s not like he’s going to lock the door to his office. Durant had a good idea of the direction the Thunder were going which is why he did his own background on Donovan calling Mike Miller and Chandler Parsons. But in the end, even if feelings were hurt, come training camp in October, nobody is going to remember a thing.
Kimball: Of course it matters if they’re at least comfortable with what’s happening. There’s no question it’s important for Durant and Westbrook to have faith in what Presti is doing. Whether being consulted is a part of that or not only matters if it tips the balance one way or the other. The bottom line is that everyone wants to feel good about where they work, where they’re going and who they work with. You’ve got to think if KD and Russ intended to stay before Brooks was fired, Donovan has an opportunity to prove he’s a reason they should stay as well. They’ve made comments supporting Presti’s authority off the court, just like it’s up to them to execute on the court. So if all of that is true, they ought to be as at peace with it as anyone can be.
Napier: I don’t think players should be “consulted” on coaching hires. I think it’s a recipe for controversy. If a player is consulted and the team goes in a different direction, the player could end upset that the team ignored his input. If two players are consulted, and both have different opinions, siding with one could annoy the other.
However, I do think, and I very much hope, that Presti kept the players (namely Durant and Westbrook) informed. Rather than seek approval of the players, Presti should’ve been communicating with Durant and Westbrook on how the process was unfolding. Picking up the phone and telling Durant that the team is bringing Donovan in for an interview should make Durant feel valued without running the risk of controversy if Durant didn’t sign off on the decision.
3. Coach is checked off, so what should be the Thunder’s primary offseason focus now?
Young: The staff Donovan builds is obviously very important, and while Anthony Grant could be a fine addition based off his synergy with him, there is a need for some NBA experience on it. After that, it’s about the draft and assuming the Thunder land at 14, it will be on Presti and the front office to assess the most pressing need and see where to go. Because really, with Enes Kanter almost a lock to be re-signed, there aren’t many pressing needs. Maybe small forward if Kyle Singler isn’t matched, and of course the Thunder have been in desperate search for a two-way guard for a few years now.
But most importantly, get healthy. That’s step one.
Kimball: Praying to every deity known to mankind that the little bone in KD’s foot heals. That’s what matters more than anything else. Other than that, focusing on turning Enes Kanter into a serviceable defensive player. He’s got the kind of offensive skill that can’t be taught, and that’s going to serve him well no matter what happens. But he’s got to hold his ground defensively and play smarter for the Thunder to be as lethal as they can be.
Napier: Sustainability. In reality, all this will take is re-signing Enes Kanter (only Kanter and Kyle Singler are free agents). If the Thunder can just stay healthy, they will arguably be not only the most talented, but also the deepest team in the NBA. For years Thunder fans have lamented how Presti simply maintained the status quo (namely keeping Kendrick Perkins and Scott Brooks around) under the label of sustainability. But in a shocking turn of events, Presti totally reshaped the parts surrounding the core of Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka during last season. As a result, Presti’s most difficult task, getting solid role players to the land without operas, has been completed. With that out of the way, Presti can renew his focus on his most favorite past time: preserving the status quo. Do that and this offseason will be a rousing success. (Do it next year, too).