OKC to Lean on Lower-Profile Candidates for Next Head Coach?


It was surprising for many NBA fans to learn that Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder mutually agreed not to sign an extension for the 2020-21 season.

Despite odds pointing in the completely opposite direction, it was a good year for OKC. The Thunder finished 44-28 and clinched a playoff spot when the franchise was “supposed to” rebuild.

Billy Donovan’s Strong Case for COY

Ultimately, however, Sam Presti decided it was best to start climbing correctly instead of spontaneously. Donovan reportedly didn’t like the uncertainty around the franchise’s future. The idea of a rebuild didn’t seem good enough for the former Florida Gators coach to stay for his sixth season.

This decision left the Thunder with a new task. The front office needs to find someone who wants to coach a young team in a fresh rebuild that seems promising. Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari have an uncertain future with the team, leaving the keys to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley if they move on from the two vets.

Let’s take a look at some candidates that can be a good fit for the HC role in Oklahoma City.


In their short history, Oklahoma City has had three head coaches: PJ Carlesimo (who coached the final SuperSonics season as well), Scott Brooks and Donovan. The last two had no previous NBA head coaching experience. Brooks was an assistant of Carlesimo in Seattle before his hiring, and Donovan won championships with the Florida Gators.

Why not go the safe way? The front office can choose someone that knows how to uplift a young team. Kenny Atkinson would fit that role perfectly. He went 118-190 with the Brooklyn Nets the past four seasons when he was in charge. However, Atkinson took the young Nets to the playoffs in his third year, only four years removed from the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade.

Atkinson also showed some signs of admirable player development. Consider the rise of Caris LeVertSpencer Dinwiddie and All-Star D’Angelo Russell. Some rotations (especially with DLo in 4th quarters) may have been questionable, but his tenure was successful, paving the way for Brooklyn’s improvement. He can handle an inexperienced group and can transform Gilgeous-Alexander into a superstar.

McMillan Viable Option?

Another option could be Nate McMillan. McMillan has a losing record in only five of his sixteen seasons as a head coach and has had many winning campaigns with Seattle, Portland and Indiana. However, he has eight first-round exits on his resume and only attained a Conference Finals appearance once. Do those failures matter if you are coaching a young team? Not really. He’s a winner, and he will find a way for this squad to become successful.

Fans have criticized him for his relationship with the three-point shot, which is close to non-existent. His team’s defense is stout, however, and the Thunder already are a rugged defensive team. The similarities between Donovan and McMillan’s styles are there, but is that what the Thunder need right now? It’s a question that only Sam Presti knows the answer to, but no one should count McMillan out.

Give Them a Chance

If it isn’t a proven head coach, OKC can go the assistant way. The Thunder — and many other teams currently without a head coach — are examining some impressive assistant coaches who want a shot as the bench’s leading name. According to Brian Windhorst (ESPN), the leading candidate of this race is Spurs assistant coach Will Hardy. He’s “heavily considered” by OKC, and Presti and Hardy already have a relationship from Presti’s tenure in San Antonio.

He may be only 32 (!) years old, but Hardy has been in the Spurs franchise for ten years. He started as a video coordinator, coached some Summer League squads for SAS, and was a videographer for Team USA in the FIBA 2019 World Cup. Gregg Popovich, a film specialist, heavily praised Hardy as a hard worker and a great player developer. OKC mainly desires a guy to develop the Shais, Bazleys and Lu Dorts, and Hardy seems to be the best candidate for that. The main question around him (and other inexperienced coaches) is if he can adequately handle a locker room.

Adrian Griffin is another name the Thunder should consider. He was an assistant coach in OKC between 2016 and 2018, so he already has ties with the franchise. Adrian has also been an assistant coach with Milwaukee, Chicago and Orlando. He’s currently the lead assistant coach with Nick Nurse in Toronto and has a tremendous reputation around the league.

Despite these worthy credentials, Griffin hasn’t received interviews lately. A couple of months ago, his ex-wife Audrey Griffin accused him of domestic violence, though Adrian denied the accusations “vehemently.” Since Audrey’s testimony, Adrian hasn’t received any NBA interviews, and that may stay that way until the situation is resolved.

The Thunder have plenty of time to make this significant decision. Presti and company won’t rush it, with the start date of next season still unknown. In a loaded coaching market, there are plenty of options to consider.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight.


About Santiago Núñez

From Argentina. NBA lover. Journalist (in the process).

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