Even by its own typically slow standards, the 2014 college basketball offseason has thus far been a sluggish one. Coaching changes have come and gone; the draft decision deadline is a month behind us; the NBA playoffs are rounding into home. How slow has this spring been? The one big story of the offseason isn't even really a story yet. We're talking, of course, about Billy Donovan.
The real thing here, the actual quantifiable event, is that Donovan has spoken with NBA teams about the possibility of leaving Florida to take a pro job next season. The most notable of these teams is the Cleveland Cavaliers, which just won the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lottery and have a young All-Star point guard (Kyrie Irving), a host of other worthwhile assets, and a lingering, probably unrealistic hope of re-landing LeBron James if and when the best player in the NBA decides to leave Miami. (The Minnesota Timberwolves are also reportedly interested in Donovan, but with Kevin Love halfway out the door already, the Cleveland job is the truly attractive one.)
At the same time, just as he did when he signed an extension this spring, Donovan has repeatedly reiterated how happy he is at Florida and how he's only keeping his options open, just in case. Donovan's situation is a bit unique: In 2007, he did leave Florida for the Orlando Magic but returned to the Gators within a few days. Now, with rumors of interest swirling in NBA circles, Donovan is working hard to thread the appropriate needles. From the Associated Press:
"I think when you start making guarantees about life and start making guarantees about where you're going to be, that's not good because if for some reason I ever change my mind and did something, I wouldn't want (people) saying, 'Well, he promised, he guaranteed, he said this on record,'" Donovan said. "I just think when you start doing that, that's a mistake.
"All I can say is I love Florida, I'm happy here ... the school's been great to me," he said. "But at the same point, some of the NBA stuff, as I've said before, is intriguing in a lot of ways -- the basketball part of it. That's not to say that I'm unhappy here; that's not the case at all.
"But when people start getting into forecasting where they're going to be or what they're going to do, and I've seen a lot of coaches over the years come out and say, 'No, no, no, no, I'm not going anywhere, I'm not going anywhere,' and then all of a sudden they go somewhere, and it's like, 'Well, this guy is a complete liar.' I don't want to get into that situation. There's been some teams that have called, but that's really it."
Donovan, at the end of the day, just really doesn't want to be called a liar. And can you blame him?
You could understand if Florida fans were slightly frustrated by this, because everyone loves to hear their coach say the rah-rah thing instead of the realistic one. But Donovan is being realistic and honest, as he's almost always been, about the NBA.
That's even easier to understand. The NBA is kind of a thrilling idea, you know? For one, there's the opportunity to coach the best basketball players in the world. There's a chance to match wits with Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks (ha ha, just kidding). There's the opportunity to throw oneself headlong into the most exciting analytical frontier in modern sports, to see where the truly groundbreaking scouting and analysis stuff exists. And there's the chance, more than anything else, to never have to worry about recruiting again.
That last part is probably the most attractive feature of the NBA. Recruiting is kind of terrible! Most coaches hate it. Whatever personnel challenges (or job security concerns) arise from having to get 12 incredibly well-paid dudes to buy in to you in the NBA is surely negated by the fact that you never have to go to the Peach Jam again. The temptation is almost overwhelming.
So, yeah, Donovan is happy at Florida. But he's clearly interested in the NBA. In a month, if he decides to act on that interest, it won't be hard to figure out why. And Donovan has taken pains to ensure sure he can't be called a liar when he does.