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):