Thunder Rolling Dice With Coaching Change
OKLAHOMA CITY - It's hard to believe it actually happened, but here we are.
Thunder GM Sam Presti gave Thunder coach Scott Brooks his walking papers on Wednesday following the most frustrating season in Oklahoma City history. Thunder players, including superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, missed a combined 224 games to injury. And despite that, OKC finished eight games over .500 and narrowly missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Some hate the move. They point out Brooks' impressive 338-207 regular-season record (20th in NBA history) and his 39-34 playoff mark. They point out his character and how he's a leader whom fans can rally behind. They assert that injuries are to blame for the Thunder's shortcomings.
Others feel it was a necessary move. They argue that despite the most talented roster in the league, the Thunder hadn't returned to the NBA Finals since their 2012 trip against Miami. They criticize Brooks' tactical abilities and out-of-timeout play calls. They say that anyone could coach a team with Durant and Westbrook to the playoffs.
And then there's the third group of folks – torn somewhere in between. They see valid points from both camps, and are just glad that they didn't have to make the decision.
But the whole thing, happening at this moment in time, feels a little awkward. No one could blame Brooks for the Thunder missing the postseason this year – that can be attributed completely to the aforementioned plague of injuries.
So if Presti thought Brooks could do the job at this time last year (we assume this is true, since he wasn't fired then), what could have occurred this season to change his mind?
Presti touched on that a bit in his press release, where he called the decision: “An assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain.”
OKC management clearly believes that a new voice is necessary to take this team to another level. But the time for that to happen is potentially running out. Durant becomes a free agent after next season and Westbrook the season after that. Whomever Presti hires to run the show better be able to build a good report with the Thunder stars or else it could cost the franchise everything.
Plenty of names have been tossed around. UConn coach and former Thunder veteran Kevin Ollie came out on Wednesday morning and said that he's staying in college. But that was before Brooks was ousted. Will he rethink that?
Florida coach Billy Donovan and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg are two more names being tossed around. If you're keeping score, that's three guys with zero NBA coaching experience.
The Thunder's dream scenario would probably be Celtics' coach Brad Stevens, but it could be difficult to lure Stevens away.
No matter the move, the Thunder's next hire will be the most important decision in franchise history. Even bigger than choosing Durant as the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft.
That decision was a safe bet. This one is a gamble.