Key questions crop up for Thunder in wake of Brooks’ firing


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his philosophy as an NBA coach

Scott Brooks is done in Oklahoma City and his dismissal had nothing to do with the injured superstars who ruined the Thunder chances of making the playoffs. Brooks is done because OKC management soured quickly on him the last few seasons and looked for their first chance to dump him.

Is there any other explanation? Brooks had a contentious contract negotiation with GM Sam Presti three summers ago and that alone spoke volumes on what OKC thought of Brooks. After he was named Coach of the Year in 2010 and coached the Thunder to The Finals in 2012, Brooks had to grovel for cash and, in a sense, respectability from his own bosses.

OKC hasn’t reached The Finals since then and missed the playoffs altogether in 2015. Although, this was mainly due to injury circumstances that went far beyond Brooks and his perceived inability to cook up a lethal offensive system, which was his biggest flaw. (Although stats-wise, he had some pretty great offenses in OKC).

Russell Westbrook hurt his knee in the first round in the 2013 playoffs. Serge Ibaka’s calf strain spoiled last year’s playoff chances. And then, Westbrook, Ibaka and Kevin Durant all missed significant time this season, even though OKC nearly managed to squeeze into the playoffs anyway.

It also needs to be mentioned that OKC’s unwillingness to deal with luxury-tax penalties forced Presti to trade away James Harden two years ago for 50 cents on the dollar.

Brooks was in an awkward situation, to say the least. While management was obviously not sold on him, Brooks enjoyed solid relationships with OKC’s stars and usually in that scenario, the coach wins out. Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka all vouched for him in the last few months, when rumblings about Brooks’ job (which were heard every summer) flared suddenly. Unless the three players were merely putting forth a friendly face, OKC’s decision on Brooks went counter to the wishes of the players whose opinion matter, including Durant’s.

And speaking of KD, it’s hard to imagine Presti firing Brooks without consulting him. Durant is one of the NBA’s five best players and, most notably, a free agent in 2016. Nothing happens in OKC unless Durant gets a whiff of it first. Did Durant sign off on Brooks’ dismissal? Did he essentially tell Presti to “do what you have to do” and look the other way? Or did he fight Presti? We may never know the truth.

Given the understandable fear of Durant fleeing town, OKC will do nothing to annoy or discourage him, which makes the Brooks firing a curious one. Brooks allowed Durant and Westbrook free reign as players and kept an open-door policy in terms of suggestions, not that he had much choice. Will the next coach draw the line when it comes to that level of freedom, or fall in line with Brooks?

Durant respects and is friendly with Kevin Ollie, his former teammate who won an NCAA title a year ago at Connecticut. Ollie would be an obvious replacement for Brooks but just yesterday announced he was staying at UConn. But, people change their minds all the time — especially when big money and big career decisions are involved.

Had he been blessed with a team with better health, or had Harden stuck around, Brooks would likely still be coach and might have an NBA title by now. Basketball is a cruel game, however. Those who thought Brooks was merely an average coach who was overmatched against the Gregg Popovichs and Rick Carlisles of the NBA world are nodding in approval today. Those who factor the untimely injuries that torpedoed OKC at the wrong time the last few years are scratching their heads.

What are Durant and Westbrook doing?

Update (7:35 p.m. ET):

47 Comments

  1. Kal says:

    only question/comment:

    who does OKC think they can get that’ll be better?

    Phil Jackson is in New York and George Karl is in Sacramento now, upandcomers like Budenhozer and Stevens are in Atlanta an Boston and good ex-player’s coaches like J-Kidd moved to Milwaukee… not to mention Eurohyped Blatt went to Cleveland…

    if this is what they wanted to do, it seems they waited too long and missed all the big fish. and now it’s a contract year, too.

  2. Sterling says:

    I liked Scott Brooks, but there were many times that I didn’t agree with his line-ups. I never felt that Roberson was a SG, no offense and his defense was over rated. He would have been a good back up to KD. Bring him in to give KD a breather for two or three minutes a quarter. He definitely wasn’t a starter. I also thought that Perry Jones should have gotten more time at the 4 position, especially when Ibaka went down. He has great shot blocking ability as well. They tried too often to use Jones at the 3 like KD. He doesn’t have KDs ability. Bottom line is there was too much standing around on offense and watching the big 3 play one on one, no ball movement, and no defense. I don’t know that I agree with the firing of him though. I think that with a healthy roster, we (Thunder) would have been feared in the playoffs. Especially with the new addition of Kanter, Waiters, Morrow, and Augustine, Singler and Novak are just throw in pieces. With the addition of Kanter, Russ and KD would have seen less double teams and had more open looks, as well as Ibaka having open looks. Waiters should have started at the SG position and Morrow should come in for him. Those two should split time at the two spot, every quarter.
    I disagree with those who say Russ was not a team player, this year he has elevated his game and is becoming a team player. Had KD and Ibaka been healthy we would still be watching them play. I think that KD and Ibaka getting injured has shown Russ how he needs to play when they return. Now he can see that he cannot do it all on his own. This will make him a better team player. Next year will be a banner year for the Thunder, and contrary to what the Sonic fans are wishing, we will be a contender and possibly make it to the finals next year.
    I don’t see Durant going anywhere, he likes it here and is going to build a family here. Same goes for Russ, he will not go anywhere either. They know that their only shot for a title is here in OKC. Get used to it, because OKC is going to be great for a long time to come, and KD and Russ will be leading us.

  3. Blazer fan says:

    I see it like this, there are better coaches out there than Scott Brooks. However, if the Thunder want a legit chance to win the title next year or make a deep run in the play offs they probably should have looked at improving their line up rather than try to bring in a new system.

    I would have thought a better SG that can shoot the three and lock down other players would be a key. I see Durant as leaving the thunder.

  4. ViKing says:

    Brooks was good all-in-all, great this year. But u need to be tougher and more strategic to win the NBA, which makes Thibs a great candidate.
    OKC may care about the opinions of KD and Westbrook, but those guys need to understand that even though they are among the best in NBA, they need to have a tough, disciplined, experienced coach to go the next step, not some damn friend coach that’s gonna be another push-over for them! SO forget these College Coach options – the likelihood for any of them to win in their first year would be close to zero w/ the OKC!

    And what refers development; certainly Brooks did some, but its not like he did it all. He still has supporting staff and its not Brooks that chooses the ones traded to OKC, whether those are free agents or by draft. And, its not like there is no players on OKC that dont need to improve their two-way-plays.

  5. Yasar says:

    OKC really failed this time, the guy managed an injury-plagued season and missed the playoffs at the last day by a tie-breaker. why didn’t the Heat fire Spoelstra? even though the Heat Reached 4 consecutive finals before eventually missing playoffs? Because Pat Riley knows that it wasn’t the head coach mistake.

    As a Sonics fan, I really wish that this will be the first nail in OKC Thunder’s grave. Durant will leave to his hometown and Join Wall & the Wizards. Westbrook will Join Showtime Lakers. and BOOM !, OKC will become the New New York Knicks !

  6. GeanC says:

    If OKC keeps going down this bad route I see K.D. being the next Reggie Miller, amazing talent that never won a damn championship because of terrible decisions by management.

  7. Noel says:

    Coach Brooks a great coach but he more focus on KD & Russ what about the others like Harden supposed to be not a six man he should be a starting five & big 3. Look for team together not just 1or2 TEAM. Look Harden now. That’s it!

  8. 1grumpycat says:

    What OKC really needs is a new training staff. There are way too many injuries, its Portland 2.0.

    Tough to see Brooks go, but I agree with the decision 100%. With a few exceptions, I believe its good for teams change it up with coaches every 5 years or so, just to avoid stagnation. Pop has earned the right to walk away from the game on his terms

  9. Scootie Brooks was the victim of a bad ‘fit’ for the last 3-4 years. The chemistry between Brooks and Management reminded me very much of Mark Jackson last 2-3 years in Oakland b/4 Steve Kerr. Seems fairly obvious that OKC’s powers gave no regard to coaching with the trading and free agency carousel since OKC lost to Miami Heat in the finals few years back. Last observation: Handwritting I think is no longer in opaque ink. 2016 likely becomes Mr. Kevin Durant’s last season in a Thunder uniform. I see no foreseeable scenario keeping both KD anD Mr. #0 walking triple-double Russell Westbrook. I believe Kevin clicked and had a better rapport with Scott Brooks then Russell Westbrook has/had. Brooks will not remain on the unemployment line for a lengthy period of time. In fact; he’ll probably obtain new employment opportunity even before Mr. Kevin (cut my rate plan in HALF, lol) Durant resumes ‘balling’. One final P.S.: Harden left OKC for Houston in the same manner Chandler Parsons left Houston for Dallas. $$$$$ . . .

  10. G says:

    I think it’s raw deal mostly because of injuries but if they have a better coach lined up then I understand.

  11. Ali says:

    Look at what OKC has achieved over the past few years… C’mon Brooks deserve some respect. OKC is a new team. How many new form team can reach into the final in such a short period of reform time? Stats never lie. Peaple do. What a shame..

  12. Annonymous says:

    I am so sorry for Brooks. I thought he did the best he could have done with the injuries this season. I believe if Harden was still there they may have made it to the playoffs. All the best to Brooks!

  13. berdugo says:

    Harden Being Let Go

    First of all, Harden wouldn’t be the same Harden today if it wasn’t for the trade. He was their sixth man, remember? The ball will always go from KD, Rus, Ibaka then Harden. Harden wouldn’t have the same opportunity he has right now with Houston if he hadn’t left

    Scott Brooks

    It was the inevitable. Consistency is the key, from season to playoffs. Year on year, a team should hover between the 1st-3rd seed for the coach to be able to prove that he’s a great one, even if there are changes in management, roster, or even if the game evolved, or the other teams got better. That is the value that Phil, Pop, Pat, and Red bring to the table.

  14. OverseasNBAfan says:

    Couldn’t see them progressing much further with Brooks he did a great job of developing their young talent and the players really liked him, maybe to much.. This reminds me a lot of GSW decision to fire Jackson last off-season (bad offensive system).
    This was a good decision and it’s not just based off 1 bad season like some OKC fans here think.. he has almost ZERO offensive system/strategy and control at that end of the floor, not much ball and player movement, just stagnate, hero ball really.

    KD and Russ (more so Westbrook) need an experienced coach they will respect but also be hard on them at times and not a push over all the time, someone who knows how to reign players into the team system when it gets out of hand. This team needs a coach like that to take them to the next level.

    Their main problem now is who do they have lined up replacing him that will bring better system?

  15. Plot Twist. Tim Ducan retires and becomes the head coach of the Thunder!

  16. lbj says:

    “Although stats-wise, he had some pretty great offenses in OKC”

    In Golden State, they had Curry and Thompson. The change from Jackson to Kerr was a very good decision, turning them into them a great offensive (and still great defensive) team.

    In OKC, they have Durant and Westbrook. They cannot be just a great offensive team. They need to be UNSTOPPABLE. They gave Brooks a chance, but it just didn’t work.

  17. Deeman says:

    I think OKC are in a similar phase to GSW when Mark Jackson was fired in 2014. GSW have a good team, they just needed a coach that made their team better. Similarly, OKC have a good team and there is no excuse for them be a championship contender. All OKC need is a coach that makes them better like Steve Kerr has done to GSW. Brooks while his tenure as coach was good but not great, he had stuck with the same lineup for a number of years and never changed the offensive plan. I wish Brooks all the best!

  18. Mark45 says:

    He was a horrible coach…

  19. Jim says:

    Raw deal for a good coach. These owners and GM’s feel like they have to do something even if it is wrong. Jacque Vaughn also got a raw deal for the Magic. Maybe they will hire Jackson or Brooks.

  20. Manna says:

    Bryan Ludloff – You epically fail as a student trying to major in English. One of the single, most important acknowledgements in a literature world, or in your interest of field, is to recognize the credit of one’s work. You, Bryan Ludloff, get a grade “F”. WHY? Cause this is not Sekou Smith’s article… this is Shaun Powell’s article! You doofus idiot!! On behalf of Shaun Powell, and any writer who doesn’t always receive the proper acknowledge of their work, I’m offended by you.

  21. Jimmy says:

    Yes Harden was traded and yes KD and Westbrook are upset about Brooks being fired but they’re not going anywhere.

  22. Anon says:

    He really wasn’t a great coach, the article says that last year the loss of Serge is what had them lose in the playoffs, yes Serge is their best defender, but if you need Ibaka, Westbrook, and Durant to succeed you are are not a great coach. There are several teams in the playoffs that don’t have the roster that OKC did even with all the injuries. You should be top 3 offense every year with Durant and Westbrook alone. Yea injuries happen, what makes great coaches is when your best players are out and you still can win games. Spolstra is the same way, lose Lebron/Bosh for the year and you can’t make the playoffs in the East, where the Celtics and Nets with their less superior rosters do. Brooks is a good manager, he can manage players, but he is not a good coach.

    • Agreed.

      He was not a good coach. OKC doesn’t even know how to run pick and rolls. All they do is isolation plays.

      I think Brooks thought spacing the floor on offense meant giving the ball to durant and westbrook then getting out of the way so they can iso without being part of the play. lol.

      He should have been fired at the start of the season.

  23. Dadli man says:

    the Coach…..nar?……management needs to be fired in this scenario (as if)…..letting go Harden….the lack of proper pick up(s) after and the coach somehow is the fault?….really?….Brooks literally had to deal with ALL his stars being injured and no solid help from upstairs…c’mon…I can see with Jackson….I like him but his ability isn’t really what the team could be a real contender on….but I’ve seen a skew of OKC games and I can tell you it doesnt matter if the man coaches his seat off….he can’t be on the court where (in this case) the real problem is….watch him laugh at OKC next season if he gets picked up by a team with something going for them

  24. anonymous says:

    About time.

    Brooks has been pretty much the only thing holding thunder back. Whenever he takes a timeout, you can expect Westbrook to take a jumpshot a feet inside the 3-point area. The man has or had absolutely no plays.
    His line-ups were terrible. Playing Kyle Singler for 20 minutes when all he does is turn the ball over 2 times, take one defensive board and shoot 4 times, sometimes hitting one.
    If you say he has to battle injuries then it is only logical since he plays Westbrook and Durant 35+ minutes regulary, despite being up by 15+ Obviously your guys get injured.
    Sure you can say that he got along with his stars. Coach has to make the team play (smart basketball), not be a good friend. Obviously it helps but when you have westbrook shooting 11/39 regularly then something has to be said.
    I really cannot understand what his role in the team was. His rotations were always the same. The team played no defense and had no plays. If the scorers had a bad day, the Thunder just lost.

  25. Paul says:

    KD gets injured and Scott Brooks gets fired as a direct result, how is that fair? It’s not his fault OKC didn’t make the playoffs, Russell Westbrook isn’t a real team leader. People were saying before the season began that Westbrook was going to carry OKC and I said he wasn’t going to carry anything. I thought that they might not even make the playoffs in the ultra competitive west. Then when Westbrook got injured I seriously thought they wouldn’t, even when Westbrook made an early comeback. But not once did I think that would be because Scott Brooks wasn’t a good coach.
    Imagine if KD had never been injured, OKC would have one of the top 2 seeds in the playoffs and Scott Brooks would not only still be coaching, but he would be on some peoples ballots for coach of the year no doubt. Now he’s out of a job, go figure. Maybe it’s that kind of decision making that got OKC’s owner fired from his own company.

    • lbj says:

      I agree with most of your points.

      However, if you look at the past seasons closely, OKC had been successful largely because of their talent. To be a great team, you’re going to need more talent (Spurs? Atlanta? Warriors?). In other words, the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. With KD, Westbrook, and Ibaka, it just feels like OKC hadn’t been able to reach their full potential (even without Harden).

      The coaching change will succeed only if:
      1. OKC plays team basketball. KD’s turn, Russ’s turn, then KD, then Russ is not team basketball.
      2. They can get Westbrook under control. No more “the bad” with “the good”. Westbrook is hands down the best point guard in the NBA talent-wise. Why can’t he be the best point guard period?
      3. They can make the most of the supporting cast. In games where the opposing team gangs up on KD and Russ, they need their other players to be able to step up.
      4. Last but not the least, they become more disciplined on defense. They’re young. They’re quick. They have more potential defensively than the Warriors or Spurs!

  26. What??? says:

    Well being a coach is pretty tough, it involves a lo of people skills and an effective communication. The thing with Mark Jackson with GSW he did not exactly get along with everyone specially some players, even got a bad relation with management. Of course he will get the sack the first excuse that they will find, same with Brooks. If OKC still made it to play off with the line up that they had I believe he could have kept with his job. The thing is if you are going rub on people in the company in a bad way you have to make sure you can produce a good result, you have to earn a reputation first before putting your weight on things. This is the reality, this is the corporate life…….. in short a coach have to earn the reputation first (multiple title) before making demands and that even management can’t say no.

  27. robromat says:

    The Big Apples about to sign 2 great players OKC players

  28. jay cee says:

    another good coach got fired because of his injured players…. life is hard

  29. James Harden says:

    Brooks was a great coach but McHale is even better

  30. Allen Iverson says:

    Hey he was a great coach!

  31. ballin says:

    I would hate to be an nba coach these days.. First Mark Jackson now Brooks come on man why the good guys? Mark Jackson got robbed of his coaching job after turning GSW into a powerhouse… Just when the warriors were blossoming they fired Jackson and pretty much gave Kerr a free ride to success. That is why Kerr didn’t get the coach of the year., because he didn’t deserve it. Brooks on the other hand was plagued by injuries, along with a organization not willing or able to resign key players…No Harden, not even a Reggie Jackson..haha They do not have a roster so I do not know why Brooks is the blame.. That is why KD and Westbrook are going through so many injuries, because they carry all the weight and have no one else… If I was KD I would run for the hills during free agency, unless he plans on having another mediocre season with mediocre teammates and a new mediocre head coach…Why? because besides KD, Westbrook and Coach Brooks, everything about that organization is mediocre…

    • turkus2 says:

      Simply put, Steve Kerr proved (and a lot of coaches before him) that you need to win with so much talent around you. Mark Jackson was a terrible coach with one offensive philosophy and that philosophy works when you play random opponents over the course of a season, but when an even halfway decent defensive team meets you in the playoffs, its obviously not enough.

      Kerr will face the same scrutiny going forward but his offensive system is far more robust than Jackson’s and doesn’t depend entirely on one player’s ability (though, like Pop’s and Buddenholzer’s offense – a lethal weapon like Kyle Korver does create “gravity” that opens things up elsewhere).

      Brooks inability to develop anything resembling a cogent offensive system is the reason for his undoing. There’s been entirely too much talent on that roster to fail and, if Brooks backed Westbrook so heavily over Harden, Harden’s rise as one of the most efficient and unguardable players in the league looks even worse on him.

      I look forward to OKC getting a coach that creates something that maximizes talent – just like the Warriors did.

  32. Nick says:

    Coaches only get the benefit of the doubt when their team is decimated with injuries if they are liked by the media and those with influence. D’Antoni’s Lakers set records for the number of player-hours missed, and by their leading players to boot and he received no deference. Byron Scott, on the other hand IS receiving deference even though the Laker’s have done far worse than under D’Antoni. Funny, I don’t hear Magic badmouthing Scott! It’s the same with Brooks. No one is cutting him any more slack then they cut D’Antoni. It has been the same for other coaches in the past. It’s definitely a biased system.

  33. Marcus says:

    This seals it for OKC. Durant AND Westbrook will leave. At least one of them will be a Laker.

    Thanks for making their free agency decisions easier, OKC! The Lakers appreciate it!

  34. Hecky says:

    Letting go of Harden is their biggest mistake. They could have won a title by now if Harden still plays for them.

    • Luis Corcino says:

      Agreed. I can’t believe how cheap they are. That team was epic and they just let it disband like they were just rebulding or something.

  35. KDfan says:

    Most teams in the NBA had figured out Thunder’s stagnant and oft predictable offense. Any new coach hired should definitely have better ideas on offense, and be able to nudge KD and Russ to use them in order to create a killer offense. On the defense, they just have to stick to what they have always done but just add more consistency.

  36. Bryan Ludloff says:

    Hi Sekou! I’m obsessed with basketball and am currently majoring in English at Santa Barbara Community College. I love writing my thoughts down about the NBA but I have nothing to do with it. I was just wondering if you had any tips on starting a career in writing about the NBA. Thanks.

  37. xw33 says:

    Considered the ability of Brooks, He was supposed to be fired after 2012. Hard decision, but Good for OKC.

  38. Guilherme says:

    “Durant respects and is friendly with Kevin Ollie, his former teammate who won an NCAA title a year ago at Connecticut.”. Don’t you mean former coach?

  39. imar says:

    everyone could see this comming as soon as they traded Harden. bye bye okc