| BY MARK LONG
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Billy Donovan is headed back to the NBA.
This time, he’s expected to stay more than a day.
Donovan agreed Thursday to become the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next coach, according to a person familiar with negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because neither side has announced the agreement.
Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti agreed to the major points of a long-term contract, the person said, and expect it to be finalized later Thursday.
Donovan replaces Scott Brooks, who was fired last week.
The 49-year-old Donovan led Florida to two national championships, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and 14 NCAA Tournament berths in 19 years. He signed a one-year contract extension with the Gators in December that would have paid him an average salary of $4 million through 2020.
He left Florida in 2007 to take the head coaching job with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, but changed his mind the following day and returned to Gainesville.
He’s not expected to have a change of heart this time around, the person said.
Though Donovan has not coached a game in the NBA, his chances at success are good. He inherits 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant and 2014-15 scoring champion Russell Westbrook.
Presti said previously he knows he’s taking a chance by replacing Brooks a year before Durant can become a free agent, but he felt the franchise could regress if a change wasn’t made.
Donovan already had strong ties to the Oklahoma City franchise. Former Florida assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as Oklahoma City’s D-League coach last year, while former Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone is a scout with the Thunder. Presti and Donovan have had a lasting relationship.
Donovan talked with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers about openings last season before deciding to stay at Florida. Last season, the Gators finished 16-17 and missed the postseason for the first time since 1997. Three players have already left the program in what many believed was a house cleaning.
Though it seems like an opportune time to have left Florida, the pressure will be on Donovan immediately in Oklahoma City. Brooks went 338-207 (.620) in seven seasons with the Thunder and was the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year. Starting in 2010-11, he led the team to the Western Conference finals three out of four years, and the franchise reached the NBA Finals in 2012.
This season, a broken right foot limited Durant to 27 games and right knee surgery kept Ibaka out for the final month of the season. Westbrook posted nine triple-doubles after the All-Star break while trying to salvage the season, but the Thunder were knocked out of the playoff race on the final night of the regular season. Durant, Westbrook and defensive stalwart Serge Ibaka spoke highly of Brooks during exit interviews.
Now, Donovan will have to prove he can coach at the NBA level, win over the fans and help Durant feel comfortable enough to re-sign.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.
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