By Mark Rodgers
The case of Scott Brooks is a curious one. Hard to comprehend for some. Easy to see for others. The longtime assistant rescued the Thunder from the depths of 2009 P.J. Carlesimo hell. The changes were immediately noticed. Brooks soothing style and player friendly demeanor picked up at 1-12 and 30 months later ended up in the NBA finals. If he was a college coach, that kind of accomplishment would set him up for a gigantic new deal and longtime security. It didn’t. Even the new contract negotiation after the final wasn’t the rubber stamp many people thought it would be.
Oklahomans love collegiate sports. Your dad and likely your dad’s dad watched the Sooners challenge for national championships perennially. Coached by program fronting giants named Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops. We understand the nuances of college sports. We fall in love with players. They leave for the NFL and we fall in love with new players all over again. Thurman Thomas graduates and we meet Barry Sanders.
Professional sports though are much different. Especially the NBA. There is one commodity that is far more valuable than any other. Superstars. Scott Brooks inherited a roster of Red Giants. Young, but the kind of assemblage that is rare and hard to keep together. In the collegiate ranks, there are defining moments where coaching tenures end. For Gary Gibbs it came at Colorado in 1994. Howard Schnellenberger couldn’t survive a contentious meeting with David Boren. There were no such moments of consequence for Brooks. However, here’s why it happened.
Wednesday’s word blizzard of a press conference from Sam Presti offered little specifics but told everything about the big picture.
Change and transition are the engine for progress and evolution. And so we’re embracing that change and looking toward the next stage. With the contracts of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook coming to an end, it was a valuable chance to reset the button with his stars. Sure Westbrook said Brooks was his friend, however you can take it to the bank, these starts had questions if their former coach was the right guy to take this team to a title. Brooks small failings added up. It wasn’t a one year event and the patchwork job in 2015 may have been his finest work. If you need a reason for the cumulative effect that occurred in 2015 here they are. Team chemistry was shattered by bad actor Reggie Jackson early in the season. Players coaches should be able to remedy such situations. In a loss at New Jersey, Jackson was frozen out for allegedly not suiting up in the prior game based on his contract situation. Straight circus. A loss to the woeful Knicks and a blowout in Sacramento with a full roster cost the franchise millions in playoff revenue. That’s 2015. Persistent long term issues were poor defensive fundamentals, extremely poor shot selection and inexplicably poor execution in late game situations that made one wonder why Brooks owned a clipboard. All enough to change direction on the bench.
In time, this case may turn out to be happy endings for all. Rick Carlisle won a title in Dallas, mesmerizing LeBron James with a simple zone defense. That after suffering through the Malice in the Palace. Brooks seen as a grower of young players will be on the short list for many jobs and has 4 million severance package to boot. The Thunder have a roster ready to roll in 2016. And a new coach, who will have to win the affection of his stars, good news those stars are as bright as any in the NBA.