Donovan, Magic Close To Parting Ways

By: ESPN.com's News Services
By: ESPN.com's News Services

Billy Donovan and the Orlando Magic are getting closer to finalizing their divorce.

An agreement has been reached in principle that would get the coach out of his deal with the Magic, and negotiations could conclude as soon as Wednesday, sources have told ESPN's Kelly Naqi.

Multiple sources told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that Donovan and the Magic have agreed upon a non-compete clause, requiring Donovan to refrain from coaching in the NBA for five years as one of the terms of his release from the contract. The clause would allay any of Orlando's concerns that Donovan could accept another NBA job in the near future. But sources said Donovan also wanted the clause in the contract to assure recruits that he wouldn't be leaving the University of Florida.

Naqi cites a Magic team source saying Donovan obtained legal representation at 6 p.m. Monday to work on the complexities of the contract with Orlando's attorneys.

The source also said Donovan has called high-ranking team officials several times apologizing for his change of heart. According to the source, Donovan said, "I'm so sorry this happened. I meant no harm. My heart is in Florida."

After signing a contract with the Magic on Friday, Donovan, who is fresh off leading the Florida Gators to back-to-back national titles, decided he wants out of Orlando.

Donovan had been waiting Monday afternoon to hear from Magic owner Rich DeVos to find out what Orlando would do with him. Early in the talks the choices appeared to be simple: Either the two parties would agree to rescind his deal or the Magic could pressure him into honoring the contract and/or seek damages. It looks like neither side wants to continue the relationship.

Donovan has been at his home in Gainesville, Fla., since Monday and wasn't expected to speak on the matter until there is closure. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has indicated he won't comment either until there is a resolution.

Sources told Katz that Donovan called Foley on Saturday morning and said he was really struggling with the decision to leave, and he wanted to come back.

The prevailing mood among sources close to the situation has been that Donovan would remain the head coach at Florida, the recruits and staff would stay intact, and the Magic would then hope to hire former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, the leading candidate to replace Donovan. Representatives of Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo have been contacted, and Pistons assistant Terry Porter also is considered a candidate.

As long as Donovan is still under contract with the Magic, Florida will back off and let the process unfold. The search for a new Florida coach obviously has been put on hold. Sources said that Florida expected the contract negotiations with Donovan and the Magic to last a few days.

Van Gundy returned to Florida on Monday after interviewing Sunday in Las Vegas for the vacant Sacramento Kings job. Sources said the Magic are trying to get Van Gundy before the Kings make him an offer.

Donovan, according to sources, just hopes to reach a resolution soon so he can resume his coaching duties for the Gators.

ESPN.com spoke at length Monday with those close to the situation, who said Donovan sounded much more at ease with his decision to return to Florida than he ever did in his decision to join the Magic.

Sources said the Magic pressured Donovan to make a decision Wednesday and Thursday, and Donovan, who admittedly had gone back and forth on the idea, finally agreed to take the job.

But problems arose Friday when Donovan held the first of two news conferences. The issue was the order of events. Florida officials felt the Magic should hold the first news conference, since they were hiring Donovan. At that news conference Friday, Donovan was greeted by a standing ovation from the Magic staff.

The news conference was euphoric for Donovan, who exited feeling great about the situation. Donovan, according to the Magic, signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract just before Friday's news conference.

But then Donovan boarded a plane for Gainesville and a news conference to say goodbye to Florida. There were tears as he and Foley spoke about his departure. That was Donovan's lasting image and it stayed with him Friday night and into Saturday morning.

If anything, maybe the news conferences should have been reversed, but Florida wasn't going to trump the Magic's desire to make a big splash with the news.

Multiple sources said Donovan woke up Saturday morning and realized he had made a mistake. Donovan felt awful about what he had done and realized how much he loved coaching Florida.

Last month, at a reunion for the Providence 1987 Final Four team, former coach Rick Pitino, now at the Louisville helm, said he advised Donovan not to take an offer to coach Kentucky. Pitino said he wanted Donovan to enjoy the benefits of winning two national titles, and he hoped one day he'd see Donovan's name on the O'Connell Center court.

Sources told ESPN.com on Monday that Donovan had a hard time making the phone calls to tell his staff and players that he was leaving. He was especially troubled by telling Foley. It turned out he didn't feel any better about being the Magic coach come Saturday morning, either.

That's when Donovan told Foley he had changed his mind. At the time, Foley was on his way to Richmond, Va., to discuss the Gators' job opening with Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant, a former assistant to Donovan for 10 years. Foley and Grant weren't able to meet, no offer was made by phone, and Foley flew back to Gainesville.

After Donovan changed his mind, Magic representatives traveled to Gainesville to try to convince Donovan to change it back. But DeVos was out of the country at the time and hadn't weighed in on the matter. He was expected to add his thoughts on Monday afternoon.

"What it comes down to is that Billy thought he knew what he wanted and that's why he said yes," said a source. "But he realized [Saturday] that he didn't want to be any place but at Florida, but unfortunately he is now entangled in contractual issues."

Donovan said Friday that Pitino and Jeff Van Gundy, the former Providence assistant and longtime NBA coach, had told him that the Magic offered a good situation for him, because they have a solid organization with young players and salary cap space. So if he really wanted to go to the NBA, this was a great opportunity. Donovan spoke Friday about all of this, and especially noted Orlando's proximity to Gainesville which would facilitate a smoother transition for moving his family.

"Personally this was very difficult for me because my 11 years at Florida were a very great 11 years," Donovan said Friday. "But I really looked at myself in a couple of aspects; one, the easy decision for me personally would have been to stay at Florida, or the next step would be to do something that would really challenge me as a person and coach and help me me grow and get better.

"And I've always been intrigued by the NBA. To leave Florida would have taken something very, very special."

The reality, according to sources, is that Donovan isn't scared of coaching in the NBA, but he simply realized that he loves the University of Florida. And once he signed the contract, held the back-to-back news conferences and slept on it Friday night, he was convinced that he wanted to stay in Gainesville.


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