On Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that they had fired head coach Scott Brooks after seven season with the team. In a statement, GM Sam Presti said: “”Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain.” However, the Thunder have done all of these things with Brooks at the helm, and and it may be hard do do these things with the uncertainty of bringing in a new head coach.
Over his tenure at the helm of the Thunder, Brooks led the team to a 338-207 record, which comes out to a .620 winning percentage. In his first season, after taking over for deposed head coach P.J. Carlesimo, Brooks went 22-47 over the course of 69 games. In the next season, the Thunder won 50 games and were bounced in the first round of the Playoffs; 50 games symbolized a 26-win improvement over the year before. In 2011, the team made it to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Mavericks, who would then become NBA champions. The next year, Oklahoma City made the NBA finals, losing to the clearly superior Heat in five games. The next year the team lost in the conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies; in fairness, the team was crippled after a key knee injury to star Russell Westbrook in game 2 of the team’s first round series against the Houston Rockets. Last year, the team lost to the eventual champion Spurs in 6 games in the conference finals, and this year the team missed the playoffs after a rash of injuries, particularly to key stars Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant.
Two names that have been brought up as replacements fro Brooks are college coaches; UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Neither have any NBA head coaching experience (although Donovan almost became coach of the Magic after the 2007 season), but Ollie has a very tight kinship with Kevin Durant. As an aside, Durant is set to become a free agent after this season. However, we must ask ourselves an important question of both these people: would they actually take the job? Donovan makes $3.7 million per year at Florida and Ollie makes up to $3 million per year at UConn. Why would either leave their cushy environments in college and go to the NBA to deal with the more trying task of dealing with pro players? They also would have to deal with more blame and scrutiny in the pros than in college, as we just saw with Brooks. In college, the coaches get none of the blame and all of the credit (this is another article for a later time).
We know what this is all about. The Thunder have to find a way to keep Durant after next season, with rumors swirling about his future with the team and a potential “homecoming” with the Washington Wizards. However, how can they keep Durant by firing the coach that he really likes? Said Durant of Brooks after the season: “He made sure everybody was emotionally stable. It was a lot of guys in and out the lineup and he kept everybody together. So that’s what your head coach is supposed to do. We can’t really say nothing about it because he did his job. He kept us together. That’s what the main thing was … So it’s kind of tough. But he did his best job he can do and I’m proud of him.” Said Russell Westbrook of Brooks:“I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does behind the scenes. Obviously, a lot of people that’s not in (the practice facility) want him to do other things, want to see other things from him. But as a coach and as a friend, I think he does an amazing job of communicating what he wants out of the players.” Serge Ibaka also endorsed Brooks and implored the team not to fire him, saying: What has he done? Injuries were not his fault. Why would he go? He has not done anything. He’s not responsible for the injuries. He did his best with the team he had. Would (another) coach do better with a team with so many injuries? What could he possibly do about it? The team is with him. You can’t blame him for what has happened.”
Sure, the Thunder want to evolve, progress and sustain. But what if evolving, progressing, and sustaining can be done without firing your former coach of the year, one of which your team’s three best players all gave ringing endorsements to? And what if doing this alienates Durant into leaving the team next summer? Is that, evolution, progress, and sustainability?
Or is that unrest, insustainability, and going backwards?
Firing one of the best head coaches in the game certainly doesn’t help the team’s chances of evolving, sustaining, and progressing.