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Friday February 26th, 2021 8:44PM

Thunder promote assistant Daigneault to head coach

By The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder promoted assistant Mark Daigneault to head coach on Wednesday, handing the team over to the 35-year-old former coach of its G League team.

Daigneault replaces Billy Donovan, who now is coaching the Chicago Bulls.

Daigneault coached the Thunder’s G League team for five years. He had a .572 winning percentage, won three division titles and made four playoff appearances.

“We are thrilled to have Mark assume the role of head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement. “He has been a selfless and effective leader within our organization since his arrival."

Presti sees Daigneault’s youth as a strength.

“The amount of head coaching experience and diverse experiences through his tenure with the Blue is rare for someone his age,” Presti said. “He has also shown the ability to empower both the players and staff he works with, and we are confident that he will help us continue to modernize our approach as an organization in a constantly evolving industry.”

Daigneault has big shoes to fill. Donovan took the Thunder to the playoffs all five years he spent in Oklahoma City. He was a finalist for NBA Coach of the Year this past season after his squad outperformed expectations and pushed the Houston Rockets to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Daigneault enters an unclear situation. All-Star point guard Chris Paul could be traded before the upcoming season, and the team has stockpiled draft picks. Uncertainty about the team’s future was part of the reason Donovan left.

Daigneault has some promising young building blocks to work with.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged in his second season. He led the team with 19.0 points per game and added 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest.

Guard Lu Dort emerged as a starter his rookie year. He made his mark while guarding Houston’s James Harden in the playoffs and his offense improved late in the season. Darius Bazley had great moments as a rookie, especially in the bubble. He averaged 5.6 points per game.

“The opportunity to be the head coach of the Thunder is truly a special honor,” Daigneault said. “Over my six years in Oklahoma City I’ve developed a deep commitment to the organization and a care for what is truly a special community that I call home.”

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.

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