Updated at 4:25 p.m.
Long reported to be the top choice of Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti to replace the ousted Scott Brooks, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan is engaged in deep discussions with the franchise about its open position and is “leaning strongly toward taking the job,” according to ESPN.com‘s Marc Stein and Andy Katz.
Yahoo! Sports‘ Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday afternoon that the two sides “have started discussing the framework of a contract” and “there’s confidence on both sides that a deal can be reached” despite one not yet being in place as of press time.
Sources close to the Florida basketball program told OnlyGators.com earlier Wednesday afternoon that the expectation is that Donovan will leave the team, though officials are holding out hope that he remains with the Gators.
Stein and Katz note that while “Donovan’s family is willing to move to Oklahoma … he is weighing both sides” of the decision with a resolution expected within the next 48 hours.
Stein reported early Wednesday morning that Donovan and Presti “have opened a dialogue about the position,” noting that “within coaching circles, Donovan is widely regarded as he clear favorite to succeed Brooks” with the Thunder. He noted later Wednesday that those talks are now “advanced discussions” with Donovan the only candidate for the vacant NBA position.
Wojnarowski noted that Presti traveled to Florida on Tuesday to meet with Donovan one-on-one and calls Donovan “the only serious candidate” for the job, noting Donovan is “enthusiastic about the possibility of the job – if terms on a deal can be reached.” Those terms would start at approximately $6 million per season; Donovan was recently given a raise to $4 million annually by Florida.
At a 5.5 percent Oklahoma state income tax rate, Donovan would still earn $1.67 million more per season at those terms.
Furthermore, Wojnarowski reports that Thunder star forward Kevin Durant has “reached out” to multiple former Gators players under Donovan in order to learn more about his future coach. Durant has reportedly “become generally positive about the potential hiring,” while Donovan is attempting to speak with Durant, Russell Westbrook and other key Oklahoma City players before making the move.
Minutes after Oklahoma City fired Brooks, Donovan was listed by multiple reporters as Presti’s top choice to fill the role.
At the time and lasting through the weekend, Donovan was on the road recruiting, only stopping in Gainesville, Florida, for a short break between visiting individual prospects and attending an AAU basketball showcase featuring some of the top prospects in the nation.
While all this was going on, the drum beat got louder for Donovan to head to OKC.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who earlier in the week reported that Donovan had been doing research into Thunder superstar forward Kevin Durant, joined “Pardon the Interruption” last Friday to discuss the chances that Donovan lands in Oklahoma City.
“This is the job Billy Donovan’s been waiting for,” said Windhorst, “and I think he’s the guy the Thunder want.”
A few hours later, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman – who has both college and NBA connections – wrote on Twitter that “almost everyone I have spoken to close to Billy Donovan believes he will take the OKC job — if/when it’s offered.” Goodman, however, also gave himself an out. “Also understand this could come down to [a] family decision. Does [his] wife want to go to OKC, [his] son is [a high school] senior, [he] has [a] younger daughter.”
It has long been known that the Thunder job is one of a handful of especially interesting NBA opportunities for Donovan, who would only leave the Gators – and a close friend and trusted partner in athletic director Jeremy Foley – for a position where he felt an equal level of trust with management.
Donovan is not as close with Presti as he is with Foley, certainly, but a relationship has been forged between the men. The Thunder have already hired two former Gators staffers and have long shown their respect for Donovan and his coaching methods.
The Oklahoma City job is not without its issues, however. Durant is dealing with a serious foot injury that could affect his status in 2015-16, a season in which he is also a free agent and is believed to be considering leaving the franchise. All-Star guard Russell Westbrook has one additional season remaining on his contract but would potentially be a conflicting personality with that of Donovan.
While talks are reportedly ongoing, Donovan is still coach of the Gators at this time. He has dealt with three offseason defections, ensured every signed first-year player has a scholarship and filled out his staff with longtime assistant Anthony Grant. Florida now must wait for word on whether its coach will also be leaving Gainesville, possibly shaking the foundation of one of the top two programs in the SEC.