The next NBA team that hires Billy Donovan as its coach, if there is one, will hope that he stays a little longer than he did the last time.
The highlight reel from Donovan’s time with the Orlando Magic in 2007 wouldn’t even work for subliminal messaging, given how quickly he changed his mind and went back to the University of Florida Gators. From June 1, the day he accepted the position in Orlando, it took mere hours until he had misgivings and less than a week for Donovan – coming off two consecutive NCAA championships and nine straight tournament appearances – to skedaddle back to Gainesville.
The Magic were fine. They hired Stan Van Gundy instead and were in the NBA Finals in two seasons. As for Donovan, upon his return to campus, he told the basketball world: “I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching.”
Eight years, forever … hey, what’s a few decades between friends?
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, citing anonymous NBA executives, Donovan is “looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.” It might be that Donovan is unencumbered by the five-year agreement he signed, since-lapsed, not to seek another NBA job. It might be that missing the NCAA tournament for only the second time in his Gators tenure, after a 16-17 season, makes him more eager to move.
Or it might be that the market for NBA coaches, typical for this time of the year, is heating up and Donovan – despite a Florida contract that runs through 2020 – still has an unscratched itch for this league.
Here’s Stein on the dance that might or might not take place between Donovan and one or more NBA teams:
And the growing feeling in NBA circles is that Donovan — who rejected serious overtures in the 2014 offseason from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers — is prepared to make the move this offseason if the “right” opportunity arises.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, one of Donovan’s most trusted advisers thanks to their long history together as both coach/player and coach/assistant coach, essentially backed up those assertions in an interview Thursday morning on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” on the general topic of college coaches moving into the pro game.
“I don’t recommend it for college coaches to do that unless they know what it’s all about,” Pitino told “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio. “I take someone like Billy Donovan. I think Billy has looked at it, I think he 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. I think people like that with that type of personality will do very well.
The Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic are the only NBA teams currently employing an interim coach, but sources say both of those clubs plan to have Donovan on their list of targets once they began more expansive coaching searches after completing their respective regular-season schedules in April.