“When you don’t have a coach, it’s a lot of uncertainty in the building,” Durant said by phone. “But coming into the practice facility today, I felt like it was a next step for us. It was an exciting feeling for everybody that was there at the gym today to learn that we got Billy as our coach. We’re excited, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Donovan replaces Scott Brooks, who led the Thunder the past seven seasons, guiding the team to five postseason appearances, three Western Conference finals and an NBA Finals in 2012. Donovan — while one of the most successful college coaches of the past 20 years, with more than 500 wins and two national championships — enters the NBA as a rookie head coach in a pressure-packed season for the Thunder.
“I wouldn’t say it matters,” Durant said of Donovan’s perceived lack of experience. “If you know how to coach a team, that’s all that matters. He’s been at one of the highest levels of basketball and won a title. That’s tough to do.
“So you can’t just downplay what he’s done in the college ranks and just automatically say he’s not going to be great in the pros. He produced a lot of pros, and they all love him.
“The only thing that will be different, to be honest, is just the schedule and the amount of practice time you may have and the travel. But other than that, I think he’ll adapt pretty quickly.”
Durant said he hadn’t yet spoken with Donovan, who will be formerly introduced Friday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Durant currently is in Oklahoma City going through his rehab process following a third surgery on his right foot and said he looks forward to getting to know his new coach.
“I met him one time out in Vegas. He was there for USA Basketball,” Durant said. “And I’ve heard good things about him. I’m sure we’ll click pretty quickly. But I don’t have a relationship with him. I don’t know him. He didn’t recruit me at Florida, so I don’t really know him too well. I’m just going off of what guys that played for him said. And I’m looking forward to meeting him and getting a feel for him myself.”
Although not directly consulted on the hiring of Donovan, Durant was very aware of the process and in favor of the move. He did his own homework, consulting some of Donovan’s former players, which helped paint a clearer picture of what to expect.
“I reached out to Chandler Parsons and Mike Miller, and they just told me great things,” Durant said. “Mike told me that he’s real detailed and prepared. Every day is just another day for him to get better. And he’s always looking to learn. I was excited when I heard that because that’s the type of player I am, and I’m looking forward to learning from somebody else. It should be a good relationship. Like I said, I want to get a feel for him myself and for him to get a feel for me and just work from there.”
Donovan, who sources say signed a five-year deal with the Thunder, takes over in what could be a volatile upcoming season, with Durant’s pending free agency looming in 2016. Donovan is known for building strong relationships with his players, but Durant acknowledged there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to a new coach for the first time in seven seasons.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “I think just for him over the summer is big for him to get to know more guys. Obviously he’s watched us before and knows what our strengths and weaknesses are as players.
“But I know he’s going to do a good job because from what I’ve heard he works extremely hard, his attention to detail is one of the best and everybody’s been telling me he’s an NBA coach coaching in college. So I’m excited. I’m very excited to learn from him and get better from him and try my best to do whatever he tells me to do. I can’t wait to get started.”
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