Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder parted ways just over two months ago. Since then, the uncertainty surrounding an uncertain upcoming season got even more…uncertain. As of Wednesday morning, the Thunder were a week away from drafting their first-round pick before naming their next head coach. On Thursday, however, general manager Sam Presti pulled the trigger and promoted internally. Yes, the random but not surprising hire by Sam Presti turned out to be former OKC Blue head coach and current head assistant Thunder coach, Mark Daigneault.
Daigneault is 35 years old, the same age as Chris Paul. He’s taking control of a team that’s very likely in their first rebuilt since their first season in OKC. The point is, the road for this freshman NBA head coach will likely be treacherous and full of young, underdeveloped talent that’ll require an abundance of patience.
Following the news, there were people on both sides of the argument. Some called Daigneault the correct hire for this position. Others claimed that Sam Presti missed out on a known, experienced coach for a coach with a question mark looming over his head.
Mark Daigneault will do well as Oklahoma City’s next coach. However, considering the time in America where more change is needed, the Thunder missed out on an opportunity.
Daigneault was the right hire because he’s been around the franchise for six seasons. He’s proven himself as a competent head coach in his four playoff appearances in five seasons with the Blue, and he’s the main building block to the foundation that Billy Donovan laid for this Thunder team. He echoes some of the same things Donovan hung his hat on, too.
With his positive experience with the Blue and his time under Billy Donovan at Florida and with the Thunder, he’s been considered a great player development coach. Considering the current state of the Thunder, on the verge of a rebuild, Mark is an ideal fit for a job where he’ll be primarily responsible for developing young players, as he’s done throughout his career.
I wrote a story almost immediately following Billy Donovan’s departure stating, that this is the perfect opportunity for Sam Presti to hire one of the numerous Black head coaches that are available for hire. Young, white coaching candidates with no professional basketball experience getting these opportunities over qualified Black candidates is also a trend in the NBA that Sam Presti could have objected to but didn’t.
Granted, only Presti, God, and a handful of members within the Thunder organization know who Presti talked to regarding the head coaching position. It could have been that the available Black coaching candidates weren’t interested in coming to OKC because of the small market. It could have been because of OKC’s retooling and repositioning of the franchise. Who knows? It’s just perplexing that of all the available Black coaches (other than Adrian Griffin) and the coaches with experience suitable for this position, including San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, were seemingly passed by.
In most cases, to get a head coaching job in the NBA as a Black coach, you have to be a former player or have an extensive history in coaching. Mark Daigneault seems to be a young, promising coach. It would just be nice to see more 35-year-old Black coaches with no professional or collegiate playing experience get the same chance that Daigneault did.
Regardless, Sam Presti has proven why he’s to be trusted, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.