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Is Thunder fire sale a sign for Billy Donovan to go back to college?

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  • Billy Donovan
    Billy Donovan
    American college basketball player, professional basketball player, point guard, college basketball coach, NCAA Tournament championship coach

Come on back to campus, Billy Donovan.

Come back to college basketball, where you’re a once and future king. Have your choice of some plum jobs that could be coming open. Win a couple more national titles.

Get away from the NBA and the looming rebuild in Oklahoma City. All around you, superstar alliances are sprouting up. Meanwhile, your roster has been stripped for spare parts and draft picks — Paul George gone, now Russell Westbrook gone, and you’re left with 34-year-old Chris Paul as the new centerpiece.

Maybe there is a Sam Presti master plan to accelerate a return to title contention, but it’s not visible at the moment. Taking lumps for years can’t sound appealing. Not when Donovan would have options at the level where you did your best work.

Multiple people who know Donovan said recently that they believe he would be open to a return to the college game, under the right conditions. If Oklahoma City is resigned to an extended struggle, that’s an incentive to consider options. And if good college jobs come open at the right time, that’s another incentive.

Clearly, Donovan is not going to take just any job. He’s earned the right to turn down grinding it out at a fixer-upper program or a football-first place that has halfhearted interest in hoops.

He doesn’t have to go to a place where basketball caddies for football, the way it did when he was at Florida. Been there, won that.

But even a choosy coach could find a lot to consider in the current college landscape. A makeover at the blue-blood level could be coming.

NCAA investigations at Kansas and Arizona will inevitably lead to notices of allegations, and sanctions could stimulate change at those two locales. The question is whether any presumptive sanctions could lessen the attractiveness of moving to Lawrence or Tucson. If Donovan doesn’t want to be part of a laborious rebuilding job at the NBA level, he wouldn’t want it at the college level, either.

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Indiana would check boxes for Donovan, and its fans already are growing restless with Archie Miller after two seasons with a 35-31 record, 17-21 in the Big Ten. Much of the Hoosier State is pining away for Brad Stevens to come back to college, but the former Butler coach might be less likely to do so than Donovan at this stage in their careers.

And what about retirements? They have to happen eventually, right? The head coaches at North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse are 68, 72 and 74, respectively. And none of them has a no-brainer, sure-fire, heir apparent — certainly nobody with two national championships and four Final Fours on the resumé.

Donovan is 54. He could offer 10 or 15 years of Peak Billy to any of those schools. Maybe 20.

And, for once, the postseason timing could be in his favor in 2020. Donovan is not the type to bail on the Thunder during a season, which means playoff appearances are problematic for the typical college hiring timeline — even this year’s first-round knockout wasn’t complete until April 23.

Well, does the current OKC roster look like a playoff team? Not really. If the Thunder is out by the end of March, Donovan would be available at an opportune time.

Or, if the wheels really come off, he could get fired during the season and have plenty of time to assess the college landscape. If, say, Billy Donovan is free in February, he would loom over the hoops coaching market much the way Urban Meyer will this fall in college football.

Come to think of it, those two made a pretty formidable tandem at Florida. And come to think of it, there is a high-profile school with both a football coach on the very hot seat and a basketball program that could end up in the NCAA slammer.

Anyone up for a USC reunion of Urban and Billy? That’s a Fight On fantasy tandem that would probably never progress beyond fantasy. But it’s fun to think about.

It’s fun to think of Billy Donovan back in college anywhere. The game would be better with him, and the timing could be right for a return.

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