The Oklahoma City Thunder sent head coach Scott Brooks packing not too long after the regular season ended. The Thunder finished with a 45-37 record, missing the playoffs because the New Orleans Pelicans held the tiebreaker with them.
General Manager Sam Presti made it clear that the firing is not a reflection of Brooks’s performance this past season—after all, with superstar Kevin Durant missing the majority of the season Pat Riley would have been hard pressed to do much better than Brooks did. Instead, Presti claimed that the Thunder just didn’t see a future with Brooks as the coach:
“This decision is not a reflection of this past season,” said Presti, “but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress, and sustain. We determined that, in order to stimulate progress and put ourselves in the best position next season and as we looked to the future, a transition of this kind was necessary for the program.”
Let’s take a look at the facts: in his first full season as head coach of the Thunder, Scott Brooks turned the franchise around. The team was 23-59 in their first season after moving to OKC from Seattle, and with Brooks they were 50-32 to next season—quite the turnaround. Brooks won Coach of the Year that season, but the team fell to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The next season saw a trip to the Western Conference Finals, and the season after that Brooks, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook had that amazing run to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. They came close again in 2014, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals.
It took Brooks three full seasons to make his first NBA Finals appearance with Durant; and now, three seasons later, they missed the playoffs because of Durant’s persistent injury. You really can’t put that on him. He made the playoffs every season with Durant healthy, so clearly he knows how to use his superstar.
Here’s the big problem with firing Scott Brooks: it only hurts the Thunder’s chances of keeping Durant when he becomes a free agent after the 2015-2016 NBA season. Durant was one of Brooks’ biggest supporters.
“He led us, man,” said Durant about his now former head coach. “He made sure everybody was emotionally stable because we had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup and he kept everybody together. That’s what your head coach is supposed to do. I can’t really say nothing about it because he did his job. He kept us together.”
Presti admits that he didn’t consult the players about the decision because he didn’t want to put anyone in a “terribly unfair position” by asking them to decide on Brooks’ future. That’s fair, but Presti also needs to consider Durant’s looming 2016 free agency.
Obviously catering to your superstar isn’t always best for the franchise. Dwight Howard had his way with the Orlando Magic, and now the team is struggling to win 20 games. The difference is, Durant isn’t barking orders or trying to get everyone fired. He’s not openly against anyone in the organization. Really, he doesn’t ask for much; so letting him keep his coach would have been the least Presti could do to keep him happy.
If the Thunder don’t make the playoffs or lose in the first round, Kevin Durant will more than likely leave. Brooks has shown his ability to help this team far in the playoffs, and if the next coach fails then that won’t bode well at all for the Thunder’s chances of keeping him. After all, the Thunder aren’t showing loyalty here—why should he?