It has been preached at and claimed by NBA players so long now that it has become a cliché: If you really want to be good, you’ll add something to your game each offseason. Like a lot of clichés, it often proves to be true.
The rigorous pace of an NBA season, even in non-post-lockout years, allows scarce time for focused individual development. The ship be sailing, to paraphrase the great Micheal Ray Richardson, so you’d better work on your knot-tying in the summer. Whatever wrinkles your favorite NBA stars have added to their games – Michael Jordan’s 3-point range, LeBron James‘ post-up repertoire, the various big men who have sought out Hakeem Olajuwon or Bill Walton for tutorials – you can bet the foundation was laid in July and August, sometimes across multiple offseasons.
But what about coaches? If players are expected to return each fall not only in NBA condition but with new or enhanced talents, how ’bout the gentlemen who assess and lead them? Surely they’re more than glorified gym teachers rolling out last year’s academic plan.
Some coaches immerse themselves in the game, in video study, in summer leagues and basketball camps. Some head overseas to give – and share theories – at international clinics. Some clear their heads by stepping as far back from the NBA as possible, at least for a spell (Montana, anyone?). There have been coaches who have lost weight, hired trainers or had undergone surgical repairs. But few can afford using the offseason solely to reconnect with spouse and kids — lest they find themselves with way too much time to reconnect with spouse and kids, post-firing.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks made it known soon after signing his four-year contract extension last month that he is far from a finished product on the sideline, as reported by Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:
“You have to continue to watch film and develop your game that way and also be critical on what you’ve done in the past and try to improve on it,” Brooks said. “Also, talk to coaches. I love spending time with coaches, whether it’s high school coaches, junior college coaches or college coaches, or other NBA coaches. I think that when you’re around (other coaches) you spark things and you brainstorm and you can improve.”
Thus far, on-the job training has benefited Brooks most. In his third full season last year, Brooks enjoyed his best season on the bench. His improvement showed both on the court and in the win column.
In Mayberry’s experienced view, Brooks has improved as a tactician and play-caller. He coaches to players’ strengths, carving out the super-sub role that James Harden parlayed into the Sixth Man Award. Mayberry wrote that, in his opinion, the Thunder offense still has room to flourish and Brooks’ substitution pattern still raised questions.
It was Miami, not OKC, that carried off the Larry O’Brien Trophy, after all.
“You have to get better,” Brooks said. “You can’t stay in this position and not keep improving … and our players are the same way. We have to all get better, and we’ve done that together for the last four years.”