OKC's Donovan getting feet wet as Thunder coach

Published Jul. 6, 2015 8:03 p.m. ET

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Day by day, Billy Donovan is feeling more and more like an NBA head coach.

Just over two months after being tapped as the next man to lead to Oklahoma City Thunder, Donovan is in Orlando this week for summer league. Aside from it being one of his first true public appearances as OKC's new coach, he's also back at the site of his first kind of, sort of NBA stop.

In 2007, fresh off back-to-back NCAA titles at the University of Florida, Donovan left his mini-dynasty, and was introduced as the Magic's new head coach. But after having a change of heart 24 hours later, he and the Magic amicably agreed to part ways a week later.

Though the intimate setting of summer league did put Donovan in the vicinity of a handful of Magic executives, and even former Orlando general manager Otis Smith (now working with the Detroit Pistons) on Monday, he said he's not feeling too awkward this week.

''No, not really,'' Donovan told The Associated Press. ''I mean, obviously it happened a long time ago. I think I handled that and talked about that as long ago as I did. (Orlando is) a great organization with great people. And I, obviously, being at Florida I followed the Magic very closely; and coaching (Magic players) Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton (on the USA under-19 gold medal-winning team at the 2013 FIBA World Championship) - getting to know those kids.

''I have a lot, a lot of respect for the organization and the people here.''

Instead of allowing himself to think about the past, what Donovan is doing is putting his energy into fostering relationships with the players he will soon be working with. He's not coaching this week, but is getting to spend time with Thunder all-star forward Kevin Durant, along with guards Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow.


All three have been fixtures on the sidelines with Donovan and his new assistant coaches.

''I think the one thing that has helped being in Oklahoma City (since) the beginning of May, I've had a chance to spend enough time with all those guys which has been great,'' Donovan said. ''I think it's great for the guys that are playing from a support standpoint...That's been very positive.''

That bonding has extended to his new assistant coaches, which include former NBA coaches Maurice Cheeks and Monty Williams.

''I really feel good about the people that we have there,'' Donovan said. ''I think we're working well together. It's a very good group in terms of there's a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge. I think we all can make each other better. We all can grow from each other...It's been really positive so far.''

Morrow said he thinks the basketball mentality of Donovan matches he is own.

''Basketball head, man. He's a basketball junkie, and that's something I can really relate to,'' Morrow said. ''Just over there watching the games. Every single play he's locked in...That's the kind of staff we have as well. I played for Monty Williams last year. He's the same way. I'm just looking forward to it. I can't wait to get the season going again.''

Back in Oklahoma City, Donovan's bonding time has also included him getting on the court with several players, including Durant, for workouts.

Durant is still working his way back from October surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, and said last week that he still isn't fully cleared for full contact basketball.

''Obviously the doctors are making all the decisions on what he can do. But just to get out there with him, and be able to rebound for him, and just talk to him about his shooting and things he's trying to get back in rhythm - that's the biggest thing right now,'' Donovan said. ''I think he's been encouraged. One, his rehab is going real well and I think the other part of it is at least he's able to pick up a basketball and shoot some, where that's probably very distant from his mindset several weeks ago. Now that he's doing that I think it's really helpful.''


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