Sources: OKC, Billy Donovan begin formal talks about coaching job

The Oklahoma City Thunder have formally commenced discussions about their vacant coaching job with Florida coach Billy Donovan, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti have opened a dialogue about the position, which became available a week ago after the dismissal of Scott Brooks.

Within NBA coaching circles, Donovan is widely regarded as the clear favorite to succeed Brooks, who made one trip to the NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference finals in his seven seasons as Thunder coach.

Donovan is the first known candidate to talk with the Thunder about the job. It was not immediately clear how many other candidates, if any, Presti plans to sit down with.

ESPN.com reported in early April that there was a growing sense among NBA executives that Donovan is more ready to make the jump to the NBA than he has ever been. He also has a very close with relationship with Presti, who has hired two members of Donovan's staff at Florida within the past 12 months to take positions with Oklahoma City -- Mark Daigneault as coach of the Thunder's D-League team and Oliver Winterbone as a data analyst.

Donovan and his family are very entrenched in the university community after his nearly two decades as the coach in Gainesville. Leaving those ties and the college basketball kingdom Donovan has built there, for faraway Oklahoma City, is believed to be the biggest hurdle that could prevent the Thunder from ultimately hiring Donovan, who resisted serious interest this time last year from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves despite his well-known ambitions for coaching in the NBA someday.

Despite his lack of NBA coaching experience, Donovan is said to appeal to Presti as a candidate because of their similarly meticulous approaches to the job. Presti speaks often of the Thunder's culture and making every move with that culture in mind. With two of his former assistants already there and a relationship with Presti already established, Donovan would appear to be the best available fit for that culture after former Thunder guard and current Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie withdrew last week from consideration.

ESPN.com reported last week that San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina also is on Presti's list -- and there surely are others yet to emerge, given how thoroughly Presti approaches such moves -- but Donovan has been regarded as the favorite from the moment Brooks was dismissed.

Donovan's Gators just endured a 16-17 season in which they failed to qualify for postseason play for only the second time in his 19-year Florida career. Sources say he has grown weary of the college recruiting grind, which apparently has increased his interest in jumping to the NBA.

Donovan recently agreed to a one-year contract extension to stay with the Gators through the 2020 season, but the contract contains a buyout for a mere $500,000 if an NBA opportunity arises. The extension is not regarded as an impediment to Donovan's pursuit of NBA jobs.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, one of Donovan's most trusted confidantes thanks to their long history together as both coach/player and coach/assistant coach, recently confirmed in an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike ‎that Donovan ‎"has an urge to coach in the NBA -- a strong desire to coach in the NBA -- and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics."

Donovan agreed to take the Orlando Magic's coaching job in 2007 and then backed out almost immediately to stay at Florida. No longer is Donovan barred from considering NBA offers, as he was from 2007-08 through 2012-13, after he agreed to a noncompete clause spanning five years in exchange for being released from the contract he signed with the Magic.

Donovan's one-year extension at Florida will raise his average salary to slightly more than $4 million annually, according to reports. According to USA Today, only Kentucky's John Calipari, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kansas' Bill Self, Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Pitino earn more than $4 million per season.

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, has a 467-186 record with the Gators and won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. This season marked the first time Florida did not participate in postseason play since 1998.