Contract almost void
Donovan, Magic closing in on agreement to kill deal
Posted: Wednesday June 6, 2007 12:18AM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 10:10AM
Billy Donovan and the Orlando Magic were on the verge of officially terminating the coach's five-year, $27.5 million contract Tuesday, a process that would allow Donovan to return to Florida and the Magic to move forward with hiring Stan Van Gundy, their preferred Plan B.
At the crux of the negotiations, a source close to the dealings told SI.com, was a non-competitive clause, as part of which Donovan would agree not to coach elsewhere in the NBA for the duration of his voided contract. SI.com confirmed that while the Magic's lawyers did consult with the NBA's legal representatives during the process, Donovan is not officially "banned" from the league during that time -- but he would be vulnerable to extensive legal action from the Magic should he attempt an early return.
Donovan, who has been in seclusion inside his Gainesville home since late Friday, is expected to pledge long-term allegiance to the Gators when he officially announces his return. A Florida source indicated that would occur by the end of the week, although the university had yet to schedule a press conference for Wednesday.
While the non-competitive clause virtually ensures the Gators' current crop of recruits -- a consensus top-five class that includes guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas as well as forward Chandler Parsons -- will be able to complete their careers under Donovan, questions over his NBA wanderlust will no doubt linger. After this episode, however, would Donovan still have suitors in the league once his five-year lockdown expires?
"What [Donovan] did was not taken lightly around the league," another source close to the situation said on Tuesday. "It was publicly embarrassing, and for the Magic, it was personal. If he had done this at Memphis [to the Grizzlies], it would have been forgotten more easily. But he did it in Florida, on his home turf. He gave them a ton of momentum for a new arena, for turning around the franchise, and then killed it."
"There are a lot of GMs that would be hesitant to offer him a job," the source said, "They took it to mean he was backing away from the challenge, and that he was insecure about coaching in the NBA."
That perception may be just fine with Donovan, who is expected to agree to the seven-year deal -- worth $3.5 million per year -- that was on the table at the University of Florida before his infamous flip-flop occurred. Donovan had completed negotiating the contract with the university after turning down an advance from Kentucky, but avoided signing it, presumably to pursue opportunities at the professional level. Former Gator forward Al Horford, who was an integral part of Donovan's back-to-back national championship teams, said the coach told him four weeks ago that, "If it's not the right situation, I'm fine in Florida; but if it's the right situation, you never know."
Donovan had discovered what appeared to be the right situation with the Magic, a team that possessed an emerging superstar in center Dwight Howard and was coming off a first-round loss in the playoffs. He agreed to accept the job last Thursday, and held a jovial, 11 a.m. press conference on Friday in Orlando to announce the deal. By late Friday night, however -- hours after an emotional second press conference in Gainesville -- Donovan was having second thoughts about his decision. Magic general manager Otis Smith was contacted early Saturday morning and informed of Donovan's desire to get out of the deal. Donovan placed a call to Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to express his change of heart.
At the time, Foley was aboard a private plane to Richmond, Va., where he planned to interview VCU head coach Anthony Grant, Donovan's former assistant of 10 years. Donovan had endorsed Grant's hiring at his Magic press conference, and it was likely that the Gators planned to offer the 41-year-old rising star the vacated job and announce it by Monday in hopes of keeping a class of wavering recruits intact. Upon receiving Donovan's message, Foley re-boarded the plane in Richmond -- without talking to Grant, or even leaving the airport -- and the process of bringing Donovan back for his 12th year at UF began. Over the next three days, it became clear Donovan, once he returned on Friday to Gainesville -- a city where not only his family, but his parents, his in-laws and his sister, have taken up residence -- he didn't have the heart to break ties with the Gators.
"I think Bill has been conflicted," confidant and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy told Florida Today. "He's a very good man who feels badly that he's put the Magic in a bad position, but he's following his heart. And his heart is telling him that he should be at the University of Florida. And even though it took him a while to come to that realization, I applaud him for not trying to live with the mistake and rectifying it."
The Magic, meanwhile, issued a guarded statement on Monday as their relationship with Donovan was unraveling.
"While Central Florida, the Orlando Magic and Billy were energized with the announcement of his contract signing on Friday, we know there was a different feeling in Gainesville and people have been tugging at him since that time," Magic representative Joel Glass said then.
"Billy is conflicted with those emotions and the opportunity he has ahead in Orlando and in the NBA. We've had numerous conversations and a personal visit in Gainesville with Billy over the last 48 hours, and we have a commitment from him that the dialogue between us will continue."
On Tuesday night it emerged that the franchise would finally be letting Donovan go -- but not without the assurance that they wouldn't be seeing him on a different NBA sideline between now and 2012.
"What Donovan did was like a slap in the face for Orlando," a source close to the deal said, "And the five-year thing was them getting their chunk of flesh in exchange for the embarrassment."