Kerr's Success Gives Hope For Thunder and Donovan

Thursday, June 18th 2015, 10:18 pm
By: News 9

Golden State's win on Tuesday night had to be a pretty good sign if you're an Oklahoma City fan.

The fact the Western Conference has another giant to slay—one that won't be going away anytime soon, by the way—isn't great news, but the Warriors have been a test for several years now.

It's what Golden State coach Steve Kerr accomplished in his first year as an NBA head coach that has to be encouraging. When Billy Donovan begins next season as the head coach of the Thunder, he'll be attempting to duplicate Kerr's accomplishment of winning a title as a rookie head coach.

There are clear differences between the two that made Kerr's transition a lot easier. Kerr played in the league for 15 seasons and won five championships. Donovan played in the NBA for less than one season. Kerr was the general manager for the Phoenix Suns from three years, while Donovan has never ventured outside the college game since his brief NBA career ended in 1989.

But what Kerr did this season with the Warriors isn't impossible to do in Oklahoma City. After all, Kerr walked into a great situation with a terrific roster that simply needed a bit of refining. Just like in Oakland, that refining wasn't going to happen with the Thunder's current head coach, so a change became necessary.

Kerr assembled a great staff and tweaked a few things that made a great offense even better (No. 2 in offensive rating and the best shooting team in the league this season) and made the Warriors a great defensive team (No. 1 in defensive rating).

The result was an NBA championship, the team's first in 40 years.

Is it possible for Donovan to do the same thing? Absolutely. After all, you could make the case the Thunder's roster as currently constructed is more talented than Golden State's. The difference is the amount of veterans for the Warriors and their ability to play multiple positions. For all the talent in Oklahoma City, there aren't many players that can play several positions, and it's still a young group.

But let's run down the checklist and see how Donovan is doing so far at imitating Kerr.

First, Donovan has to put together a great staff. This is particularly important given his lack of NBA experience. So far, it seems Donovan is doing just that. While nothing is official, it appears he is bringing former Alabama coach Anthony Grant with him from Gainesville and also convinced former New Orleans coach Monty Williams to come aboard. The last position could be for former Thunder assistant Maurice Cheeks.

That's a great staff, one that has plenty of NBA experience and key relationships with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Consider that box checked.

Like the Warriors, there isn't much for Donovan to tweak to make the Thunder a lethal team on both ends of the court. It's hard to evaluate the Thunder's performances with so many injuries the past two seasons, but in 2012-13—the last time the team stayed healthy during the regular season—the Thunder was No. 2 in offensive rating and No. 3 in defensive rating, with an absurd 11-point net rating.

When everyone is healthy, the Thunder can be really good on both ends of the court. Unfortunately, OKC hasn't had that luxury the past two seasons thanks to a plethora of injuries. It's tough, but the most difficult part of Donovan's new job may be something he can't control—the team's health.

Despite the injuries, the Thunder were still on the high side of the middle of the pack when it came to offensive and defensive ratings this season. Donovan's task of making a few changes to make OKC better on both ends of the court seems too simple, but the specifics of that task are for another column, another day.

Before Tuesday, Pat Riley was the only rookie head coach to win an NBA title. Can Donovan and the Thunder make it two years in a row next season? Kerr and the Warriors proved it's very difficult, but still possible.