Sources: Donovan eyes jump to NBA

ByMarc Stein ESPN logo
Thursday, April 2, 2015

There is a growing sense among NBA executives thatFlorida Gatorscoach Billy Donovan is looking to making the jump tothe NBA more than ever before, according to league sources

Sources told that Donovan is poised to draw interest from multiple NBA teams this offseason and is increasingly prepared to listen to those pitches after the Gators endured a 16-17 season in which they failed to qualify for postseason play for just the second time in Donovan's nearly two decades in Gainesville.

Donovan recently agreed to a one-year contract extension to stay with the Gators through the 2020 season, according to multiple media reports, but the contract contains a buyout for a mere $500,000 if an NBA opportunity arises.

The extension is not regarded as an impediment to Donovan's pursuit of NBA jobs if he wishes.

And the growing feeling in NBA circles is that Donovan -- who rejected serious overtures in the 2014 offseason from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers-- is prepared to make the move this offseason if the "right" opportunity arises.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, one of Donovan's most trusted advisers thanks to their long history together as both coach/player and coach/assistant coach, essentially backed up those assertions in an interview Thursday morning on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" on the general topic of college coaches moving into the pro game.

"I don't recommend it for college coaches to do that unless they know what it's all about," Pitino told "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio. "I take someone like Billy Donovan. I think Billy has looked at it, I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA -- a strong desire to coach in the NBA -- and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that with that type of personality will do very well.

"... If Billy doesn't do well, he can go back to college. Brad Stevens can go back to college. When you get to be our age, Tom [Izzo] and my age, where are you going back to? The McBurney's YMCA on 37th Street or 34th Street? If you're happy where you're at, it's a good place to stay."

The Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic are the only NBA teams currently employing an interim coach, but sources say both of those clubs plan to have Donovan on their list of targets once they began more expansive coaching searches after completing their respective regular-season schedules in April.

Donovan is also likely to be pursued by teams that make changes after the regular season or playoffs.

The links between Donovan and Orlando are inevitable after the 49-year-old agreed to take the Magic coaching job in 2007 and then backed out almost immediately to stay at Florida. No longer is Donovan barred from considering NBA offers as he was from 2007-08 through 2012-13, after he agreed to a noncompete clause spanning five years in exchange for being released from the contract he signed with the Magic.

Donovan's one-year extension at Florida will raise his average salary to slightly more than $4 million annually, according to reports. According to USA Today, only Kentucky's John Calipari, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kansas' Bill Self, Michigan State's Izzo and Pitino earn more than $4 million per season.

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, has a 467-186 record with the Gators and won back-to-back national championships in 2005 and '06. This season marked the first time Florida did not participate in postseason play since 1998.

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