CHICAGO – Whatever he has done or will do in the National Basketball Association, what Billy Donovan accomplished at Florida will remain a major part of his coaching resume.
His 467 wins, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, four Final Fours, and two National Championships established the coach as one of the best of his generation. It’s that success that earned him the shot to coach in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015.
With that time coming to an end when that team was eliminated from the playoffs in the NBA bubble in Florida, Donovan and the franchise mutually parted ways. In searching for his next opportunity, it was not his time with the Thunder that he looked back on, but rather that successful one in Florida.
“My first two years, we had two losing seasons, but the thing that was very, very powerful to me was walking hand-in-hand not only with the administration, with the players in trying to build something,” said Donovan, whose teams went 27-32 in those first two seasons before a run of nine-straight tournament appearances that included titles in 2006 and 2007.
During his talks with Arturas Karnisovas over the last week, Donovan got that feeling again from the executive vice president. The collaboration between the two was the key to the coach deciding to take the job of the team that’s still in the midst of building themselves into a contender again.
“Arturas and the time that we spent together in terms of his vision, what he was looking for, and wanting to do it together really was impactful to me,” said Donovan.
Now the pair have to work together to determine how the team takes steps toward competitiveness again. The team has missed the playoffs the last three years and their rebuild following the trade of Jimmy Butler saw little progress before the front office was cleaned out this past winter and spring.
Donovan saw the end of a potential championship run in Oklahoma City following the departure of Kevin Durant along with the eventual trade of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Yet in a competitive Western Conference, Donovan took the team to the playoffs every year, including a young group his past season led by Chris Paul.
The team finished the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season 44-28, losing to the Rockets in seven games at the Orlando bubble.
Now he’ll get the same chance to take a Bulls’ team currently finding its way on the next path of their franchise journey. Donovan knows it’s one he won’t have to walk alone.
“I wanted to be in a situation where everyone’s rowing the boat in the same direction, everybody’s pulling together, everybody’s working for the same cause; a lot of really good dialogue and communication,” said Donovan. “As a coach, you’re a part of it all the way through from top to bottom. I think Arturas was looking for that, the partner with somebody as a coach to try to continue to build and develop the program.”