Thunder, coach Donovan mutually part ways

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Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan won’t be returning to the Thunder next season, it was announced on Tuesday.

The team said in a statement that both parties mutually agreed to part ways.

Donovan’s contract expired at season’s end and the sides decided against pursuing an extension.

“We had planned to sit down at the end of the season and discuss the best way to move forward for both of us. After those discussions, 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,” Thunder executive vice president and general manager Sam Presti said in a statement.

“Therefore, we close this chapter and reflect fondly on all that he has given to the team, organization and community. Billy will always have a place in the Thunder family.”

Discussions between OKC management and Donovan were described as collaborative and realistic, sources said.

“This place will always be special to us. I will always hold this organization in the highest regard and wish the Thunder and their fans the success they deserve,” Donovan said in a statement.

The reality of Oklahoma City’s eventual transition toward a rebuild made it a challenge for the two sides’ to find a way to continue forward together, sources said.

Donovan’s contract expired with the Thunder’s season ending in a Game 7 to the Houston Rockets in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs.

With reduced league revenues amid the pandemic, there remains uncertainty on how long the Thunder might continue with key veterans in place before changing course on playoff-contention in the Western Conference.

Donovan will be a significant commodity on the open NBA market, and could become a candidate among the openings in Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Indiana.

Donovan signed an initial five-year deal with the Thunder upon arriving from the University of Florida, which included a team option that Oklahoma City exercised early in the 2018-2019 season.

Donovan was the National Basketball Coach’s Association’s Co-Coach of the Year with Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer for 2019-2020. The NBA’s coaches vote on the award.

In five seasons, Donovan advanced to the Western Conference Finals in his first season with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and reached the playoffs in each of the next four years. Donovan was 243-157 (.608) as Thunder coach.

The Thunder are well equipped to execute a rebuild with a young core of players that include point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, rookie guard Lu Dort and forward Darius Bazley. Trades that sent out Paul George to the Clippers and Westbrook to the Rockets have left the Thunder in position to have 13 first-round picks and three sets of swap rights across the next seven NBA drafts.

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