Billy Donovan remains the coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, after the team’s first round flameout weeks ago. His tenure as an NBA coach has been quite up-and-down, and there’s been plenty of speculation that he could return to the college ranks.
Donovan was a hugely successful college hoops head coach, leading Florida to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 07. The Gators reached additional Final Fours under Donovan in 2000 and 2014.
It is rare to see someone go willingly from the NBA to college. With the surprise opening at Michigan, following John Beilein’s abrupt departure for the Cleveland Cavaliers job, there’s some speculation that Donovan is a candidate to take over in Ann Arbor.
MLive.com has been profiling potential Michigan basketball coaching candidates, and Billy Donovan made the list on Wednesday.
The best bet is that Donovan is worried about his future in OKC, with just one year left on his deal. The Thunder picked up an option for Donovan in December, but he effectively enters the year as a lame duck as of now.
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, in his only public comments since Beilein’s departure, expressed his preference for “someone who has a track record as a head coach.” Donovan’s track record, at the college level at least, is very impressive.
Whether the Long Island, New York native, who turns 54 on May 30, would be interested in Michigan is a different matter.
According to The Oklahoman, the Thunder owes Donovan $6 million next year after picking up his 2019-20 option back in December. It is the final year of what has been reported by several outlets as a five-year, $30 million contract signed when he left Florida.
Donovan could view his long-term future in Oklahoma City as uncertain and decide to forfeit $6 million for a potential multi-year deal at Michigan. The odds of an NBA head coach under contract voluntarily leaving are perhaps not particularly high. But given his success at the college level, there’s reason to believe Michigan would be interested.
As of now, there’s no real indication that Donovan is interested. Michigan is viewed as a top flight college hoops job though, and one that could pony up for a name like Donovan. Jumping from the NBA is tough, but there’s a strong likelihood that next year will be his last, if his Russell Westbrook, Paul George-led team doesn’t make serious improvements. Right now, it is hard to see the Thunder roster changing much, so that would be predicated on Westbrook rounding out his game, and George staying healthy and replicating the impressive 2018-19 regular season he just had.
That is all a lot to ask, and there is definitely a universe in which Donovan doesn’t want to see an opportunity like the Wolverines job slip away. We should find out relatively soon if he is a realistic option.