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The OKC Thunder are in cap hell. Could that lead Donovan to IU?

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Billy Donovan is a pipe dream hire that is just barely more realistic than Brad Stevens. But could he be a realistic target for IU?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The likelihood of Billy Donovan coming to Bloomington to coach the Hoosiers seems only slightly less far-fetched than the idea of Brad Stevens doing the same thing.

So why has there been so much smoke regarding the situation? Well, there’s a myriad of reasons.

Maybe IU fans are still searching for the home run hire and have latched onto Donovan. Maybe Donovan’s past history of leaving the NBA for college (albeit one day into his tenure with the Orlando Magic) has fans thinking he’d do it again.

Or maybe the situation in Oklahoma City is not what he envisioned and he really is leaning toward a return to college.

Before we dive into this, it’s worth prefacing everything with the caveat that Donovan is likely not coming to Bloomington. The only precedent to this scenario involved Rick Pitino leaving the New York Knicks for a Kentucky program in shambles, but that situation and the Hoosiers’ current one do not equate and Pitino is the exception to the rule.

Still, as Kyle Robbins explained yesterday, why are so many people coming back with such similar answers from various sources regarding Donovan and Indiana?

First, you have to look at the current Thunder team. Russell Westbrook has dominated the headlines, and rightfully so. Currently, he’s averaging 31.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists. He’s other-worldly.

His supporting cast is often under-appreciated. Our own Victor Oladipo, after a slow start, is having one of his best seasons ever. Steven Adams is one of the best young big men in the league. Enes Kanter is one of the best offensive big men around. Andre Roberson, Domantis Sabonis and even Doug McDermott are all quality role players who are 25 or younger.

Therein lies the potential problem, though. When Donovan took over the team last season, it was a franchise with NBA title aspirations. With a lineup featuring Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, they were on the cusp of making the NBA Finals before a historic collapse.

This summer, everything changed. Ibaka was shipped off, Durant moved on to Golden State and suddenly, the Thunder were in a completely new mindset. No longer were they a title contender, but instead were simply playoff contenders.

The problem with that change, however, is that

  1. Russell Westbrook, arguably the league’s MVP, is good enough to keep them in playoff purgatory as a six seed, but needs more around him to rejoin the league’s elite.
  2. They are in quite the mess, financially.

That second part vital going forward for the Thunder. Currently, OKC is going to pay Westbrook, Kanter, Adams and Oladipo a combined $89.7 million next season. With a projected cap of just over $100 million, the Thunder are stuck. They’re not good enough to win a title as is and they don’t have the flexibility to improve their roster.

A common belief among many dating back to last summer is that OKC may look to move Westbrook. With the star guard holding a player option in 2018-19 that he will certainly decline for a long-term, more secure deal, the Thunder essentially have one more season with Westbrook.

Do they hold on to him, hope they can keep him and hope he doesn’t treat them like Durant did? Or do they learn from past mistakes and ship Westbrook off this summer for more young parts and enter a rebuilding mode? The second option seems more likely and is also most likely why the Thunder signed him to an extension.

How does all this pertain to Donovan? Well, this isn’t the same job he originally signed up for. With or without Westbrook, the Thunder aren’t a Finals contender and, barring a blockbuster trade of some sort, won’t be for the foreseeable future.

Compare that to the team Donovan took over that had title aspirations and you start to piece together a situation in which Donovan may not be as keen on the NBA any more.

The counter to that is that Donovan knew that losing Durant, and the team’s title hopes, was possible when he took the job.

Regardless, there are differences between Donovan and, say, Brad Stevens. Stevens is successful, coaching a title contender and loaded with a young team stocked with draft picks.

Donovan is guiding a team that has the point guard putting together one of the greatest seasons in NBA history and are still only a tied for the six seed in the West and have lost in embarrassing fashion to the current one seed multiple times this season.

Is Donovan leaving OKC a pipe dream? Yes.
Is there reason to believe he could leave the NBA for college again? Only time will tell.