By TRAVIS REED
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - The Orlando Magic are betting that Billy
Donovan can build another powerhouse in Florida.
The Magic hired the Gators' coach Thursday and were to introduce
him at a news 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
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. "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 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
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 Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey
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
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
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)