Sam Presti Talks Donovan Departure and the Future
Thunder fans were just minding their own business and enjoying the internal mental ping pong game of “do I root for Russ and the Rockets or LeBron and the Lakers?” when we all got Woj bombed.
Our eyes stopped focusing on the former Thunder legends on the court and became glued to social media buzzing about one of the top-three Thunder head coaches of all time leaving his post.
Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder mutually agreed to part ways on Tuesday night. And half an hour after the news broke, Oklahoma City Executive VP & GM Sam Presti was ready to press pause on his philosophical, jazzy hip hop Spotify playlist and speak to the media.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Presti virtual press conference, one for each season of Donovan’s tenure.
5. Donovan doesn’t want to coach a non-contending team.
“It became apparent that we couldn’t provide him the information on the future direction of the team over the next several seasons to give him the level of clarity that he understandably desires at this stage of his career.”
When Donovan agreed to leave his legacy and his home in Florida to jump into the NBA, he did so with the idea of coaching an MVP in Kevin Durant and another top 10 player in Russell Westbrook. The man did two things with the Gators: chew gum and win championships. And he planned on keeping that tradition in OKC. Well, KD bounced after his first season and his teams were bounced after the first round in every subsequent season. The man wants to win a title, not develop rookies and sophomores. I can’t blame him. But then again, what coach in their right mind leaves Lu Dort?
4. Presti has no idea of the what, when, where or how of next season.
Over the course of the 45 minute media call, Presti repeatedly emphasized that the status for the 2021 NBA season is riddled with question marks. He’s unclear when the season will start and where the games will take place. But most importantly for this important Thunder offseason, Presti is unsure of how the pandemic could potentially affect the salary cap and luxury tax moving forward. Until those issues become more clear, Presti said he will step back and wait before making any coaching or roster decisions. He can say that all he wants, but you and I both know he’s been spending hours a night on TradeNBA.com. What I would pay to see those Bucks and 76ers successful trade screenshots…
3. Sam and Billy broke out the booze.
Knowing which direction the conversation was likely leading, Presti brought a cooler of beers to his meeting with Donovan. This wasn’t one man being let go or one man begging another to stay. This was two buddies having a walk down memory lane, reminiscing on what was and what could have been. Presti said they reflected on both the good times and bad times over some cheap brew. Presti’s presser with a nice plug for Pabst.
2. Presti really liked Donovan.
“Billy Donovan gave the Thunder five great years and had a great impact on a lot of people. I’ll look back on this time fondly.”
Still not convinced? Okay. Here’s another one:
“I learned so much from Scott Brooks and from Billy Donovan. I have a great affinity for both of those guys.”
Fine. That was just a compliment to both his former head coaches.
But here’s what Presti said he’s looking for in the next Thunder head coach:
“Someone who is really passionate about coaching the Thunder, like Scotty and Billy were.”
Ugh. Stop stealing half of Billy’s spotlight, Scotty. You already get bigger rounds of applause from The Peake every time you come back as head coach of the Wizards than Donovan ever did as head coach of the Thunder. (And I still haven’t forgiven you for playing Kendrick Perkins in the 2012 Finals.)
Truly, it was obvious in Presti’s tone and text that he is fond of Donovan. He even went so far as to say he didn’t want to talk much more about a new coach because he wished to focus on appreciating Billy Donovan.
1. The rebuild is coming.
The most obvious and biggest takeaway, the subtext from which every answer was given, is that Presti is pivoting from perennial playoff contender to trusting the process. It’s ultimately why Donovan is walking away, why Chris Paul filmed a moving goodbye video, why Danilo Gallinari tweeted a thank you, and why the likes of Brian Windhorst, Marc Stein and Royce Young are speculating on CP3 trades.
For those who want to see this team run it back, Presti did offer one small glimmer of hope:
“We may bring this team back for next season. We don’t know what that’s gonna look like. We’re not in the position to make those kinds of determinations.”
Other than that olive branch to those fans who can’t stomach the idea of losing–or worse, tanking–every answer from Presti indicated a rebuild is pinned on his calendar for October 2020.
The 2019-2020 Thunder season was special. The team chemistry, the clutch wins, defying all doubts and exceeding all expectations. But the season will be locked into a time capsule to be treasured and remembered warmly. We’ve likely seen the last of Paul, Gallinari and Dennis Schröder in a Thunder uniform. Possibly even Steven Adams, but we’re not ready for that conversation yet.
One thing is for sure: we’ve seen the last of Billy Donovan on the Thunder sideline. His coaching merits may be debated, for good and bad. But there is no debating the fact that he’s a class act and a high character human being. I wish him well wherever he ends up. Except for when he coaches against OKC.
Unless we’re tanking.