Billy Donovan knew it might come to this. After a remarkable rookie season as an NBA coach, he was unable to persuade Kevin Durant to stay in Oklahoma City.
Call it the Kexit, as coined by the Orlando Sentinel’s David Whitley. While there is no real comparison between Durant’s departure from OKC and a nation leaving the European Union, both events produced shock waves in their own way.
When Donovan left Gainesville for Muskogee, his job description was condensed to two lines. First, win a lot of games this year and second, make Durant like you enough to stay for next year and beyond.
His team won two-thirds of their regular season games and was one win away from the NBA Finals. Place a check mark by the first line.
During the season, Durant gave no visible indication Donovan would play any role in his departure. In fact, he told ESPN “he’s been a great motivator for us.”
Despite Donovan’s best efforts, and that of Durant’s teammates, one of the top five players in the game chose to face the dangers of earthquakes in northern California over the tornadoes of Oklahoma.
It’s probably a good thing coaches and teams cannot comment on decisions such as this. The moratorium expires on Thursday.
Not that someone like Donovan would say something stupid. Instead, it is difficult to listen to jilted grooms try to put a positive spin on how they will carry on after the love of their life ran away with another suitor.
Durant handled his exit by thanking the people of Oklahoma City as they began burning the number 35 jerseys.
“It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune.
Professional sports are a business and Donovan knew that going in. Players want to win championships and make a lot of money.
Either, or both, of those goals affect decisions on where those players ply their trade. Much to the disappointment of Donovan and the Thunder, Durant is seeking more of both.
His departure also appears to have affected a possible reunion between Donovan and his former Gator player, Al Horford. Durant and guard Russell Westbrook attempted to woo Horford from Atlanta to Oklahoma City. With the uncertainty surrounding Durant’s status, Horford instead bolted for Boston.
We will now learn how good of a coach Donovan is. He is forced to try and build a playoff contender with one key cylinder missing from the engine.
Let us not forget that another important component, Serge Ibaka, is now in Orlando. If Donovan and his staff can mold former Magic star Victor Oladipo into a strong complementary player to Westbrook, perhaps the Thunder can re-emerge as a strong playoff contender.
Donovan has experience building championship-level teams with new players replacing departing players – at the college level. His biggest challenge as a pro coach is before him.
Not to be a total pessimist, but one year from now Donovan and the Thunder will be going through the Durant scenario with Westbrook.
Donovan dearly hopes a Wexit is not in his future.