|Donovan leaving Florida to coach Orlando Magic|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 31 May 2007 21:58|
The Magic hired the Gators coach on Thursday and planned to introduce him at a press conference Friday. Donovan agreed to a five-year, $27.5 million contract, an official in the NBA told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal hadn't been finalized.
``There's going to be a lot of hamburgers, a lot of filet,'' departing Gators star Joakim Noah joked.
Donovan has faced speculation that he would leave the Gators since leading the school to its second straight NCAA championship in April. He turned down an offer to coach Kentucky, whose storied program launched his career as an assistant in 1990, and was more recently linked to the Memphis Grizzlies' vacant coaching job.
He seemed to squash those rumors after turning down the Kentucky position, proclaiming, ``I love the University of Florida.''
But Orlando, about 115 miles south of Gainesville, proved too strong to resist. The Magic job pays more than twice Donovan's $1.7 million annual deal with the Gators.
Both Donovan and the school had said all along they were negotiating a contract extension. Florida president Bernie Machen said Thursday the deal was basically done, just not signed.
``There's always a next,'' Machen said at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meeting in Destin, Fla. ``Billy Donovan has been here for 11 years, won two national championships. He's been a great ambassador for the University of Florida. We'll always love Billy Donovan, whether he's here 11 years or 21 years.''
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also emphasized there were no hard feelings.
``We certainly wish this run could have gone on forever. It's been an incredible privilege to be a part of. We're indebted to Billy Donovan,'' Foley said in a written statement. ``We hired him 11 years ago to build Florida basketball and he did that beyond anyone's expectations. We'll miss him as a coach, but we'll always be friends and remain close to Billy and his family.''
Donovan replaces Brian Hill, who was fired after two consecutive losing seasons. Hill's ouster followed the Magic's first playoff appearance in four years, which ended in the first round against Detroit.
If he's going to go, now could be the best time for Donovan. Florida lost its top seven scorers after the season, including potential top-10 NBA picks Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer.
In Orlando, Donovan inherits a team without a single first-round draft pick - or much veteran experience. Orlando is rebuilding around third-year player Dwight Howard, who made his first All-Star team this season, and counting on bigger contributions from Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick.
The Magic have vowed to re-sign free agent Darko Milicic, who flourished despite an injury in the playoffs, but the 7-footer still has to prove his NBA value.
``Billy Donovan is a winner,'' general manager Otis Smith said in a statement. ``We feel he is the right person to develop and maximize the talents of our players. We look forward to Billy leading us to the next level.''
Besides the coach, the big question mark for Orlando is whether Grant Hill will return. The often-injured star's contract expired this season, and he could opt to retire or chase a title elsewhere. If Hill leaves, it would open up a big load of salary cap room for a skilled offensive player.
Donovan has shown he can improve even mediocre programs. At Florida, a traditionally football-oriented school, he made it to the NCAA title game three times in his 11 years. He led the Gators to nine straight 20-win seasons, nearly doubling the amount it had before his arrival. Florida won three SEC championships under Donovan after getting just one in 77 years previously. He became the winningest coach in Florida history on Dec. 20 and now has 261 victories.
With the Magic, he'll face a similar challenge. Orlando hasn't been out of the first round of the playoffs in a decade.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Destin, Fla., contributed to this report.