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5-on-5: Bring on the Thunder, Billy Donovan

It appears that Rick Pitino's former point guard at Providence will be walking through that door. Billy Donovan is leaving Florida for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder:


1. Good move for the Thunder?

Jeff Goodman, ESPN Insider: I would have just flat-out asked Kevin Durant who he wanted, he would have said Kevin Ollie, and that's who I would have gotten. That way KD would have felt even more loyalty to the organization after next season, and I feel it would have given OKC the best possible chance to keep him. Ultimately, that's the most important facet with this franchise: keeping Durant -- because it will be difficult to bring elite free agents to OKC. It's all about keeping KD, and Ollie had the best chance to do so.

Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: I won't say it's a bad move. It's just a risky move. There is a lot at stake for the Thunder next year, not the least of which is Kevin Durant's free agency in July 2016. If the core group of Thunder players doesn't buy into Donovan, or if Donovan flat-out underperforms in his first year, it would give Durant incentive to sign elsewhere. And if he leaves, well, Russell Westbrook could follow him out the door the next season. The question is, what would be a successful season for Donovan and the Thunder? The scary part is, it could be championship-or-bust right off the bat.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: I can lie and say that I know how this will pan out for the Thunder, but there are too many unknown variables here. Billy Donovan has never coached in the NBA. From what we can tell, Kevin Durant has no prior relationship with Donovan. And [former coach] Scott Brooks came within three wins of an NBA championship in 2012. I appreciate [general manager] Sam Presti's boldness, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Seems so; it's no bigger risk than any other hire of a coach inexperienced at the NBA level. NBA teams have wanted to hire Donovan for years. His talent, judgment and player development have been excellent during his career as he's constantly churned out lottery picks. He's been thinking about and preparing himself for this job for some time; it's a reasonable gamble.

Royce Young, ESPN.com: The only way to answer that is TBD. On the surface, it's a strong hire, because Donovan is high-level coach who forges strong relationships with players while still commanding plenty of respect. The Thunder want a coach Kevin Durant will like playing for. But there are always unknowns when it comes to college-to-NBA coaches.


2. Good move for Donovan?

Goodman: Complete no-brainer. He has the chance to coach two of the best handful of players in the world for at least one season, as long as KD is healthy. If it works out, he'll have other opportunities in the NBA down the road (even if KD leaves), and if it doesn't, he can return to college and get a better gig (e.g., Louisville, UNC, Duke, etc.) This gives him a chance to compete for an NBA title next season, while in Gainesville he might have been competing just to get into the NCAA tourney.

Gutierrez: As a proud Florida alumnus, it pains me to write this, but yes, it's a good move (apologies if my tears are showing up on your screen). He's ready for this -- this time around. He's great with players, has been in constant contact with NBA personnel for years while at UF and has players in the league who can vouch for him. Only question could be an X's and O's adjustment, primarily offensively. But it won't take him long. Plus, he knows how to hire great assistants.

Haberstroh: Probably. There's nothing left for him to prove at the college level and the Thunder organization is as close to a college atmosphere as he'll find in the NBA. The transition won't be as daunting as his mentor, Rick Pitino, experienced going from the Providence Friars to the New York Knicks, that's for sure. Probably a good move for Donovan's bank account, too.

Windhorst: Yes, and it doesn't have as much to do with Durant and Westbrook as you might think. Donovan isn't just choosing a roster, he's choosing an organization. He's choosing a partnership with a competent and patient GM and an owner who empowers his basketball decision-makers. This is vitally important when you're taking a career risk such as this. No coach is winning big without great players, that's not an argument. But without a strong organization, the chances of a coach's success diminish greatly. Oh, and he's going to get a massive and long contract, too.

Young: Great move. He's about to turn 50 and has spent almost 20 years turning Florida into a national powerhouse. He's accomplished almost everything you can, and now has a ready-made NBA title team waiting for him. He's either a success and cements his legacy as an all-time coach, or he fails and returns to college and lands at a new powerhouse program waiting to scoop him up. Win-win.


3. Does this move help or hurt OKC's chances of keeping Kevin Durant?

Goodman: TBD. I think Donovan will mesh well with Durant -- because frankly, it's not difficult to get along with KD. Sure, he's gotten a little surly with the media at times -- but he's a high-character guy who's easy to deal with compared to the majority of NBA superstars. I think Sam Presti is banking on the fact that Donovan is a major upgrade over Scott Brooks as an X's and O's guy -- and that will give the Thunder their best shot of winning a title next season. I don't think Donovan will be the ultimate factor in whether Durant stays or goes; I think that depends on how strong a bond he has with the ownership, the fans and the area -- and also whether he feels like he can win championships in OKC.

Gutierrez: Ask this question again around the 2016 All-Star break. Keeping Scott Brooks would've helped right now, but a disappointing 2015-16 season still would've left the door open for Durant's exit. The Donovan hiring creates intrigue, but we won't know whether Durant is on board until we see results.

Haberstroh: Depends how much Donovan wins. Honestly, to me the best predictor of whether Durant stays is whether he feels he can still contend for a championship in OKC. And given Westbrook's and Serge Ibaka's recent injury troubles, it may come down to health more than the coach.

Windhorst: Too early to say. You can offer conjecture on this all you want; the truth is that no one really knows. In the past Donovan's players, for the most part, have shown a strong affinity for him. But if you know how Durant is going to feel in 14 months, the Thunder should hire you.

Young: Help. On the surface, next season appears to be a make-or-break year for the Thunder. But in reality, establishing Donovan and illustrating to Durant the strength of the organization, a strong change in direction that betters the franchise, while letting him build a relationship, puts the Thunder in a better position than before.


4. What will be Donovan's biggest challenge?

Goodman: Adjusting to the fact that he doesn't have absolute power -- which he had for nearly two decades in Gainesville. The coach runs the show in college, but the players run it in the NBA. Donovan has an ego, but he'll be able to put it aside for the most part and understand how to let the players be the focal point. It'll take some time, but he'll figure it out.

Gutierrez: Creating an offense that both highlights the strengths of Westbrook and Durant while still keeping defenses off-balance and everyone else in the offense in play. Basically, turning really, really good to great, which this offense clearly has the potential to be. It's the kind of leap the Warriors made from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr. That, and of course dealing with the championship pressure and constant questions about Durant's free agency.

Haberstroh: Managing personalities. Power is in the paycheck, so it's a vastly different pecking order at the pro level where the players get paid -- sometimes more than the coach. And look, this is not a Brad Stevens situation. No one's dedicating national TV segments to debate whether Jared Sullinger gets along with Isaiah Thomas. For Donovan, having two superstars can be a blessing and a curse.

Windhorst: Russell Westbrook. He's one of the most talented athletes in all of American professional sports and he's also one of the most challenging to coach. College coaches are used to control; there is almost no way to control Westbrook. Figuring him out would be a chore for John Wooden and Red Auerbach, and it will be for Donovan, too.

Young: Russell Westbrook. In seven years, Scott Brooks did an underrated job at corralling Westbrook while simultaneously letting him run amok. The leash was sometimes too long, and Donovan will have his work cut out for him to establish a mutual respect with the often strong-willed Westbrook.


5. Where would you rank OKC in the West to start next season?

Goodman: If Durant is healthy, it's No. 1. But that's obviously a big if. What do the Thunder lack if KD is close to 100 percent? They have arguably the best point guard in the game in Russell Westbrook, arguably the best scorer in KD -- and plenty of talent up front with Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. But it all depends on the health of Durant because we saw what that did to this team this season. He doesn't need to be 100 percent for the first part of the season, but he has to stay on the court -- and get as close to 100 percent when it matters in the playoffs.

Gutierrez: Assuming a healthy Durant and a re-signed Enes Kanter (or a Kanter equivalent), the Thunder would have to start the season as one of the three best teams in the West, along with the Warriors (assuming Draymond Green re-signs) and Spurs (assuming some amazing offseason addition and another dose of Tim Duncan reverse-aging tonic).

Haberstroh: If you can guarantee me a healthy roster, they'll be right there with the Golden State Warriors at the top. But with Durant's worrisome foot situation, I'll slot them third in the West behind the Warriors and Kawhi Leonard's Spurs. A 7-footer with a recurring foot problem scares me just enough to temper my expectations.

Windhorst: Top three. They have two of the best 10 players in the league. They look like they'll have more depth than they've had in recent years. The owners also appear to be loosening the purse strings, which the Thunder said was planned but looks more like a reaction to the fear Durant may walk.

Young: Top three. Part of their position is contingent on how the offseason goes -- do they lock up Enes Kanter, what pick do they land, etc. -- but assuming all that goes according to plan and good health is restored, there won't be a more talented team in the league. Donovan can coach, which is nice, but as good as the Thunder might already be, he might not really need to.