The Oklahoma City Thunder officially introduced Mark Daigneault as head coach on Wednesday, after promoting the 35-year-old assistant and former coach of their G League team as the replacement for departed coach Billy Donovan.
Daigneault becomes the first G League coach promoted to head coach within the same organization, but most importantly, his in-house advancement to the top of Oklahoma City’s coaching ranks should smooth the transition for the franchise in the midst of a rebuild against an accelerated timeline with the 2020-21 season set to tip in a little more than a month.
“Everyone’s talking about the quick turnaround time. I just interviewed with [general manager] Sam [Presti] and his group for a long period of time, and not once did they talk about the quick turnaround time,” Daigneault said. “The quick turnaround, shortened season, or whatever is just the world we live in right now, which is why I’m so grateful to be in an organization with such a strong foundation like the Thunder.”
That underpinning stands to see several tests over the coming weeks, given all that’s transpiring around Oklahoma City. ESPN reported Tuesday that the Phoenix Suns held discussions about acquiring All-Star Thunder point guard Chris Paul, with the league currently sitting through a moratorium on trades with the annual draft set for next week. Daigneault spoke with Paul on Wednesday morning, describing the veteran as “so congratulatory” of the coach’s promotion.
“I’m so grateful to Chris, certainly,” Daigneault said. “I’m so excited to get back to work with not only Chris, but with everybody.”
Still, yet another challenge for OKC to address in the coming days is defining who “everybody” is within the organization. Daigneault acknowledged the Thunder assistant coaching staff still isn’t complete, and he declined to identify which coaches from the Donovan regime will be retained.
“I wouldn’t say anything is in place,” Daigneault said. “Sam just offered the job recently. So, nothing really is in place. We are in those conversations right now. I’m not going to get into anything specific about the existing staff or any external people, but all I’ll say is that I have a ton of confidence, respect and admiration for the coaching staff we that we have here and the people we have here. I fully anticipate that the first place we look for our next coaching staff is internal, and those conversations will be happening over the next few days.”
Then, there’s the matter of the current Thunder roster, which remains uncertain with regards to Paul, who could be traded before the season as the team sits on a stockpile of draft picks from past trades. Remember that Donovan, now head coach of the Chicago Bulls, departed Oklahoma City, citing uncertainty about the franchise’s future as one of the reasons.
OKC’s current roster features a few promising young players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who led the Thunder last season averaging 19 points per game. Lu Dort became a starter last season as a rookie and emerged as a lockdown defender in the playoffs while guarding Houston’s James Harden. Darius Bazley also shined as a rookie last season, scoring in double figures on five occasions during OKC’s eight seeding games played in the Walt Disney World bubble.
Having spent five seasons as head coach of the Thunder’s G League team, where rosters turn over in perpetuity, Daigneault expressed no concerns about the makeup of the current roster. Daigneault posted a winning percentage of .572 in the G League, capturing three division titles with the Blue, in addition to advancing to the playoffs on four occasions.
“This is the modern NBA,” Daigneault said. “I don’t think anybody in the NBA knows what their roster is gonna look like at a given point in time. There’s times when the noise is a little louder, but I really can’t get concerned with that. The job’s hard enough to start engaging in hypotheticals. So, all I’m thinking about is being extremely with the players that are on the team, and extremely present with the players that are in a Thunder uniform, whether they’re in a Thunder uniform for years and years and years or whether they’re on a 10-day contract. That’s really all I can control, and that’s all I’m really focused on.”
Presti pointed out that Daigneault has “been integrally involved with our draft process,” adding that “our player development systems have come significantly further and further each year under his purview.” So, for the organization, the promotion of Daigneault to the head coaching role should only bolster what he’s done over the years for the franchise.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 11, 2020
“As we reposition our franchise and our organization in an ever-changing, evolving NBA, we couldn’t be more thrilled about the traits that Mark brings to the table for us,” Presti said. “He has had a significant impact in our organization over the last several years and has the rare combination of youth and experience. One of the greatest skills I think he possesses is his relatability to
the modern NBA player, but also in a modern NBA organization. As we reposition our franchise for future sustainable success, we want to remain cutting edge, forward thinking, asking tough questions of ourselves and pushing ourselves forward. I can’t think of someone better than Mark to be the person that’s leading that charge from the coaching position and empowering all the different people that he works with, which I think is one of the greatest strengths that he has. He has had a hand in so many things that happen behind the scenes, including staff development of a lot of different coaches that he’s had with the Blue that have gone on either to come to the Thunder or have moved on to different positions. I think that’s a tremendous sign of his selfless leadership. We couldn’t be more excited about his acumen, his toughness and his consistency as a coach on a day-to-day basis, but also the person that he is.”
Despite all the trade rumors, Paul remains under contract, along with Dennis Schröder, Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Dort and Bazley. Sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari is an unrestricted free agent as well as Devon Hall, Mike Muscala (player option), Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson while Deonte Burton, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Hervey and Abdel Nader comprise the club’s restricted free agents.
Daigneault laid out his list of priorities as the Thunder inch toward the start of a new season with just their fourth head coach since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
Daigneault also expressed gratitude regarding the franchise’s commitment to consistency, which should keep its most recent transition relatively pain-free.
“I reached out to all the players this morning and was able to talk to some of them,” Daigneault said. “Certainly, staffing is a high priority coming into this, and then just continuing the conversation. The good thing for me is that the organization has been humming all this time, and all the people that have an impact on the organization have been working all the way through. We’re ready for whatever comes our way always, and Dec. 1 is no exception to that. Going into the bubble experience, the players did a great job of keeping themselves ready. So, I have 100 percent confidence that when they come back in the doors, they’re gonna be hungry and they’re gonna be ready, in shape and ready to roll. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. But I’m pretty confident because of all the people we have here.”
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