NORMAN — Is it possible Russell Westbrook ruined Billy Donovan?
Or, perhaps, that Kevin Durant’s departure, and what that meant to Westbrook, has ruined Donovan?
“Ruined” is a big, charged word with purposeful dramatic import. So, to be clear, we’re not really coming after Donovan, but we are wondering if events beyond his control have conspired to make him not particularly useful to the Thunder much longer.
Because the knock on Scott Brooks, who the Thunder fired as coach in advance of the 2015-16 season, appeared pretty clear.
Brooks was deemed not to be the coach to get the Thunder to a championship.
Kevin Durant was coming into his final season under contract and Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti took a chance, not without risk.
The idea Brooks wasn’t the guy appeared sound. So talented, the Thunder had long struggled to play together, incorporated too much hero ball and appeared stuck.
Presti responded by firing a coach who remained popular with the players, believing in an achievable greater good that would win over the players.
On the court, it worked.
The next season, under Donovan’s direction, the Thunder won 55 games, reached the Western Conference Finals and had Golden State down 3-2 with Game 6 slated for Oklahoma City.
Fairly stunningly, they lost Games 6 and 7. Far more stunningly, Kevin Durant shocked the world by signing with Golden State soon thereafter.
That gave way to the ceding of the franchise to Westbrook and all of his quirks, and who was Donovan to get in the way of that?
Whatever skilled handing of the reins that enabled Westbrook and Durant to play well enough together to get a mere home-court victory away from the NBA Finals were suddenly no longer in play.
Westbrook’s amazing and insane capabilities kept Oklahoma City competitive, but his inability to make good decisions on the court at crucial and not-so-crucial times robbed the Thunder of reaching their potential.
What that potential actually was may remain unclear, but it was greater than three straight first-round playoff exits.
So here we are, at a time the Thunder might do very well to employ a coach with collegiate tendencies.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo and Darius Bazley represent two starters and four rotation players, all of which would be in college right now had they come along at a time superstar collegians exhausted their eligibility.
All that, and Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari are not the type to get in the way of aggressive coaching. They’re not … it’s an odd word to ascribe to Westbrook, yet seems to fit … delicate. They can handle being coached.
Because it seems like the Thunder could use a little of that right now and certainly in seasons to come, because the rebuild is happening and, already young, OKC’s bound to get younger.
A coach who can push, demand, cajole and teach would appear to be in order. Yet, given the experience of Durant and Westbrook, Donovan may well still be teaching, yet beyond that, merely managing.
If that observation is questionable, this one isn’t.
Donovan was brought in by Presti at a certain time to do a certain job with a certain cast of characters.
That time, that job and those characters, all but Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, if he still counts, have turned over.
What are the chances Donovan just happens to be the right guy for the next stage of Thunder history, a period that’s already begun?
Yet, whoever that guy is, it would be a lot of fun to watch Donovan give morphing into him a whirl.
It’s a risk, but so was his coming to Oklahoma City in the first place.
He might like it.
It might even work.