Few coaches have been quite so unanimously disliked in the media. Let me clarify. I’m sure Scott Brooks is a fine man, but the opinion of most is that he is a sub-par head coach. The Oklahoma City Thunder and general manager Sam Presti finally pulled the trigger on firing their long embattled head coach on Wednesday, April 22. The only coach, except for the man Brooks replaced in their first Oklahoma season in P.J. Carlesimo, that the Thunder have ever known. Was it the right move?
There’s plenty of stats that make that a tough call off the bat. In ESPN’s article on his firing, they noted that he has a .620 career winning percentage, the highest in league history for coaches without a title. Brooks also has a winning playoff record. Seeing as he never won the title, that means the Thunder won several convincing series and lost close ones. In his first season at the helm, Brooks had Durant and Westbrook averaging 25 and 15 points respectively. The core of the team was there. But, they struggled offensively with only Jeff Green averaging double digit scoring other than the duo of the future.
2009-10 was a new story. With the humble additions of Serge Obama and James Harden, and a scoring jump to the 30 ppg threshold for Durant, the Thunder and Brooks had a average offense and defense and made the playoffs. They lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The next four seasons for Brooks feature four first place finishes in the division, two second place finishes in the conference and an overall #1 seed in the playoffs. They did all of this on back of an elite offense and an above average defense. The caveat in all of this that’s been running through your head is that Brooks had Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka for the majority of his tenure. The knock is that Brooks hasn’t gotten them over the hump. He merely turned them into one of the better young teams in basketball despite a having a limited front court and losing James Harden for what turned into very little in return.
In my opinion, this is a much riskier move than people are giving it credit for. Brooks is a solid NBA coach and when you’re reportedly looking at college coaches to make the jump, you’re taking a big risk. The guesses are lazy in my opinion, the top college guy in Billy Donovan and an ex-player turned decent coach in Kevin Ollie. The openings for Brooks seem just as lazy, Orlando being very popular because of Brooks’ success building a young team into a contender and the young talent present in Orlando.
Durant’s impending free agency may have been the key. Despite having a fan in the superstar, Brooks may have gotten the axe because they felt like the media does, that Brooks can’t put them over the hump. Can someone like the possibly-available Tom Thibodeau?
I’m not sold on Brooks being the thing that holds them back in the end. They’re good, but they have run into buzzsaws in the playoffs. The Thunder have lost to the eventual champion Spurs, the Miami Heat in the finals and the eventual champion Mavericks. The playoffs are predictable in the NBA for the most part. There isn’t nearly as much luck involved as there is in baseball and there is much more of a track record than the NFL. However, that doesn’t mean that playoff success that Brooks has had should be discounted.
He won’t be off the sidelines for long. We’ll see where he ends up.