It's never dull in Oklahoma City, especially when it comes to the Thunder. On Tuesday, Billy Donovan and Sam Presti decided to mutually part ways.
In some ways, it was an unexpected move, considering all signs pointed to Donovan coming back when Presti said:
He's been our coach now for five years, and I think he's done an excellent job all five years, and our hope is that once we get some clarity on whether this is the end of the season or we're playing more or what have you, we'll sit down and have those conversations like we always have."
"But those are conversations that are going to stay private, but I would just say I'm looking forward to it."... "I think he's done a great job, and I'm hopeful that those are productive when there's an appropriate time to do it. "
Then we learned this week that the Thunder offered Billy Donovan a two-year extension, which doesn't seem like ample enough time to build a championship-caliber team.
One big lesson here is never to assume what Presti is saying unless it's crystal clear. The other lesson, just when you think you have the Thunder figured out, you don't.
This season was supposed to start the rebuilding process, but unexpected success and a failed trade that would have sent Danilo Gallinari led Presti to ride things out. Now, it seems as if they are genuinely ready to hit the reset button.
Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated writes:
Promising young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, and Darius Bazley got to play meaningful minutes in consequential games, while Paul, Dennis Schröder, and Steven Adams revitalized their market value.
At this point, all signs point to those three players being made available. In a press conference, Presti framed Donovan's exit as a mutual decision spurred on by a lack of certainty surrounding the roster moving forward, which can be read into accordingly. It's unclear exactly to what degree the Thunder feels the need to strip things down, but that conversation starts with Paul, who it would seem still has plenty in the tank at age 35. He has two years and north of $85 million left on his contract (next season guaranteed, and a player option for 2021–22), which makes trade scenarios even trickier amid an uncertain financial climate due to COVID-19. Still, Oklahoma City tends to be creative, and teams like Milwaukee and New York could be interested parties. Moving Paul enables Gilgeous-Alexander to play point guard full-time again, which should be important for his development.
Schröder and Adams are entering the final years of their contracts and are proven contributors who can help playoff teams without long-term financial burden. Adams has been quietly available for some time and remains one of the more underappreciated, winning players in the league. Danilo Gallinari's deal is expiring, but most of the teams expected to have cap space aren't contenders, and the Thunder could conceivably facilitate a sign-and-trade to help him land with another team while picking up something else of value in the process. There's enough here in OKC to make the best of the situation without going full tank job, but getting younger and focusing on development for a year or two as the Western Conference contenders age might be the best thing for the franchise's long-term health.
Thunder fans are incredibly spoiled, and tanking doesn't seem to be an option for a city that desires to raise a banner for something other than a division title. But, there will be some suffering as Bazley, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dort continue to develop.
Also, expected the unexpected, if Presti thinks the Chris Paul, Schroder, or Adams can help him get young talent either by moving up in the draft or trading from someone already on a roster, he has to make that move.
The Thunder won't toil in NBA purgatory for very long, if at all. They are a well-run organization that may not have all the facts about the future salary cap or luxury tax, but you can bet there is a plan in place, and in Presti we trust.
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With more than 20 years of experience hosting local and national radio shows, Erik Gee is a fixture of Oklahoma sports media. He has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for the past six seasons. He is also the co-host of the Pat Jones show on 97.1 The Sports Animal in Tulsa.