Thoughts of the Day: September 9, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and former Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan came to a mutual parting of the ways Tuesday. Donovan’s contract expired at the end of the season and rather than sign an extension with a franchise committed to a long term youth movement, Donovan elected to step away.

In the five years he’s been piloting the Thunder, he’s proven he’s an outstanding game coach and one who players enjoyed playing for. The problem wasn’t Donovan’s coaching. It was Oklahoma City, not exactly the garden spot of the earth and certainly not the kind of place that lures the kind of free agent talent it takes to supplement good drafts.

Take a look at a few of the players Donovan lost either to free agency or trades over the past five years: Kevin Durant (left after the 2016 season for Golden State where he won back-to-back championships); Russell Westbrook (MVP in 2017, traded to Houston after the 2019 season); 6-time all-star Paul George (traded after two seasons in OKC to the Los Angeles Clippers after the 2019 season); Domantas Sabonis (NBA all-star in 2020, traded for George after the 2017 season); Victor Oladipo (2-time all star shooting guard traded along with Sabonis after the 2017 season); and Serge Ibaka (3-time All-Defensive first teamer who helped lead Toronto to the 2019 NBA championship; traded to Orlando after the 2016 season).

It’s hard to win championships in the NBA or any pro sport in which there is a constant revolving door of all-star talent so what Donovan did to go 243-157 (60.7%) is a testament to good coaching.

So what’s next? There are several NBA openings and there will probably be more before the end of September. The best landing spot would seem to be the Philadelphia 76ers, whose roster includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who helped Donovan win two NCAA titles at Florida. That’s a team in dire need of good coaching because the talent is already there. Another situation that might intrigue Donovan is Indianapolis, which has a core of Oladipo, Sabonis, TJ Warren and Myles Turner. The Pacers are maybe one or two role players away from being a real contender.

Beyond Philadelphia and Indiana, I don’t see a situation that would interest Donovan all that much, at least for next year. If Billy isn’t interested in a wholesale rebuild in OKC where he’s been for five years, it’s highly unlikely a situation like the Chicago Bulls would interest him all that much. New Orleans is open, but that’s another place I just can’t see. As long as LaVar Ball is son Lonzo’s agent, I can’t see Billy willing to deal with that kind of head case on a regular basis.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Billy take the next season off and then reassess where his priorities are. He will still be in demand for the NBA and there will always be openings. With Billy’s track record of success he can afford to sit and wait for the right opening.

A return to college basketball would also be an option although you can almost scratch Donovan for any opening that isn’t at one of the blueblood schools. At bluebloods like Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina, there is tradition and rabid fan bases that travel well. He wouldn’t have to fight for recruits like he had to at Florida. Coach K (Duke, 73 years old), Roy Williams (North Carolina, 70) and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse, 76) are all long in the tooth. They can’t coach forever and those are places where Donovan could take over without the program missing a beat. Kansas could open up due to NCAA sanctions in the aftermath of the college basketball corruption trials. If Kansas gets hammered, as expected, then Bill Self might choose to go on to the NBA but even with the Kansas tradition, Donovan probably wouldn’t think about going someplace that’s on probation.

Prediction: If the 76ers offer and Billy doesn’t take it, he will sit out a year and then decide in the spring of 2021 whether he wants to continue as an NBA coach or return to his college basketball roots.

WILL THIS BE KADARIUS TONEY’S BREAKOUT YEAR?: We’ve known since he first stepped on campus that when Kadarius Toney has the football in his hands that he can make opponents look very, very silly. After what seemed to be a breakout 2018 when he caught 25 passes for 260 yards and ran 21 times for 240, he seemed poised to have a breakout 2019. Unfortunately, he went down with an injury in game two last year and after missing six straight games, never regained the form he showed on that first offensive series of the Miami game when he turned a bubble screen into a 66-yard touchdown.

Toney is healthy again and looking the part in practice so far of a player who knows it’s time to produce and not just as a guy who can turn a bubble screen into a big gain but as a legitimate downfield threat in the passing game.

“You look, everybody knows he’s a playmaker,” Florida HBC Dan Mullen said on Tuesday’s teleconference. “He’s a great playmaker with the ball in his hands. He’s taken such a huge step forward in becoming a wide receiver now. Not just kind of a get-it-to guy, which he’ll still continue to be a get-it-to guy for us, but every down being a wide receiver. He’s taken some huge steps forward. I’m really excited about that. That’s what you want from those guys. It’s one thing, this utility athlete, get-it-go guy, but when you can become disciplined and a great technician at your position, that takes you to a whole other level.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC

ALABAMA: Redshirt junior Mac Jones continues to hold down the #1 quarterback spot after two scrimmages. Freshman Bryce Young has been impressive but it’s Jones’ job to lose … Nick Saban on political endorsements: “I’ve never endorsed a candidate, nor will I ever endorse a candidate or get involved in politics in any way, shape or form. I don’t think that’s my place.”

ARKANSAS: The Hogs haven’t won an SEC game since they beat Ole Miss, 38-37, back on October 28, 2017. That’s 18 straight SEC losses and a 1-23 record in SEC play the last three seasons. Since Vanderbilt is not on the schedule, it’s entirely possible Arkansas will do a reverse run of the table and add 10 games to that impressive losing streak.

AUBURN: Backup punter Crimmins Hankinson has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

GEORGIA: Tight end Tre McKitty, a grad transfer from Florida State, has undergone a knee procedure after he was banged up in Saturday’s scrimmage.

KENTUCKY: With the uncertainty of Joey Gatewood’s transfer waiver and Sawyer Smith’s less than spectacular play last year, true freshman Beau Allen could emerge as the backup quarterback to Terry Wilson.

LSU: All-Southland Conference (D1AA) corner Darren Evans is transferring to LSU. Evans has started 32 games in three years at Nicholls where he broke up 15 passes last season. Since the NCAA has given anyone who plays this season a free year, Evans could play two seasons for LSU.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Although it seems a foregone conclusion that the starting QB will be Stanford grad transfer KJ Costello, HBC Mike Leach says he won’t name a starter until game week before the Bulldogs open their season with LSU in Baton Rouge.

MISSOURI: Mizzou has four players out with the Covid-19 virus and 10 others behind held out due to contact tracing.

OLE MISS: Lane Kiffin reports that 27 players missed Saturday’s scrimmage either due to Covid-19 or injury. Missing from the scrimmage was quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who has some hamstring issues he’s dealing with.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Transfer wide receiver Jalen Brooks, who caught 35 passes for 751 yards and six touchdowns at DII Wingate last year, has applied for a waiver to play immediately. A transfer from a lower division shouldn’t have to sit out this season but South Carolina is Brooks’ second school this offseason.

TENNESSEE: The strength of the Vols defense will be corners Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson, who have a combined 35 college starts between them.

TEXAS A&M: ESPN analyst Andre Ware, a former Heisman Trophy winner, calls Texas A&M his darkhorse team to win the national championship. The Aggies will know by week three if they’re national title caliber since they play at Alabama week two and then host the Gators week three.

VANDERBILT: Derek Mason won’t be the first coach to make the Endangered Species List on Countdown to Firing Day – Southern Miss axed Jay Hopson Monday – but he could be the second. This is Mason’s seventh year on the job and he has yet to produce a winning record. Odds are that Vandy does an oh-fer 2020.

A COUPLE OF PITHY THOUGHTS: Politicians from six states where Big Ten football is played have sent a letter to commissioner Kevin Warren urging him to get football going again as soon as possible. The Big Ten presidents knew how their coaches and athletic directors felt when they voted no football this fall. A bunch of politicians begging them to reconsider will only make them dig in their heels. If the politicians seriously want football played, then they’ll threaten to de-fund the 13 public universities in the Big Ten. It’s my experience that nothing gets the attention of a university president quite like the threat of his financial rug being pulled out from under him … Running back Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 after video surfaced of him kicking a woman, got a three-year contract with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday. NFL owners will basically give a contract to an axe-murderer if they think it will get them to the playoffs, which brings us to the subject of Colin Kaepernick and the fact he’s not on an NFL roster this fall. In fact, he hasn’t even had a nibble from an NFL team. If an NFL owner thought for even a second that Kap could get them to the playoffs, he would have been in camp and would be on a roster.

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