Sad Day In Thunderland, But Some Excitement Too

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder are moving on and they're doing it without a guy who's always been there.

Scott Brooks has been with the organization through thin (as an assistant the last year in Seattle and as an assistant and then head coach the first year in Oklahoma City) and thick (the rest of the years in OKC save this last one when injuries made the Thunder ultra thin).

Through it all Brooks has been the rock solid, steady voice of continuity and consistency. His leadership led to mostly good times and a lot of wins. 338 of them adding up to an outstanding .620 winning percentage, ninth best all-time among NBA head coaches.

The Thunder made it to one NBA Finals and three Western Conference Finals.

But in all of Brooks' wildly successful seasons (four of them with at least 50 wins) none ended with an NBA Championship.

Yes there were plenty of key injuries and that's where the blame mostly lies. Russell Westbrook's knee and Serge Ibaka's calf and Kevin Durant's foot and on and on and on.

Not much a head coach can do about those things and that's why I'm sad that Scotty Brooks won't be around to coach what hopefully will be a healthy Thunder roster in 2015-16.

The next guy will get to do that and so the next guy could very well get that ring that escaped Brooks' grasp. So that makes me sad, because I really, really like Scott Brooks. Everyone does.

But at times as much as you might have been wondering what Brooks could do with a healthy roster you were also wondering what another coach and maybe a different staff of assistants could accomplish. And that's why along with some sadness in Thunderland there is also a great deal of excitement.

Thunder GM Sam Presti refused to throw Brooks under the bus, declining to get into his specific reasons for making a coaching change. But with as many times as Presti used words like "stimulation" and "transition" it seemed as though he thought the Thunder needed a swift kick in the ass to get them going instead of an hand on the shoulder.

Instead of coming right out and saying that, he preferred to praise Brooks for his accomplishments and his role in laying the Thunder foundation and helping build the organization to its present heights.

“He was part of a lot of firsts for this organization,” Presti said. “Not just the winning and the success that we’ve had, but I think he’s helped define some real positive things about how you go about your business every day.”

But Presti also decided the consistency Brooks was known for, the consistency that helped mold a young team, wasn't necessarily needed now. Something else was needed now.

“Change in organizations are necessary at times. As much as continuity is required for lasting success, change and transition are the engine for progress and evolution," Presti said. "Change can be healthy. If you’re not willing to embrace that at certain points in time, then you run the risk of starting potential regression. Improvement comes from making some tough decisions.”

And clearly this decision was tough for Presti. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice when he talked about delivering the news in person to Brooks Wednesday morning and when he talked about all the important work the coach had done.

“Whoever will assume the role as the next Thunder head coach,” Presti said, “will have a great foundation to work off of thanks to Scott.”

So now the focus moves to who that next coach will be. Presti denied reports that he's already spoken to a couple of guys who might be interested. Former Thunder player Kevin Ollie, who is the coach at the University of Connecticut and University of Florida coach Bill Donovan.

Ollie's UConn team won a national championship a couple of seasons ago, Donovan's Gators have two titles.

Both men are highly respected and will be not only on the Thunder's short list but probably those of other teams too.

Ollie released a statement Wednesday morning saying he was happy at UConn and would not be pursuing other jobs. That was before Brooks, his old coach, was let go. Reports out of Storrs, Connecticut, now say Ollie might very well be ready to listen carefully to what Presti might have to say.

NBA opportunities like this one don't come along very often. Usually old coaches are fired and new ones hired because the team stinks. Seldom does a new coach walk into a ready made situation for winning a championship.

That and Ollie's relationship with Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka could sway him the Thunder's way. He makes $3 million a year at UConn and has a hefty $5 million buyout but it's believed that will not prevent the Thunder from making a run at him.

Donovan has already been a head coach in the NBA, though for only a day. He accepted the Magic job in Orlando on June 1st, 2007 and the next day returned to Gainesville after changing his mind. He makes about $4 million a year at Florida and is the sixth highest paid college coach in the country. His buyout though is a bargain at just $500,000.

His friends have said they believe he's ready now to make the jump to the NBA, that recruiting has worn him down. Donovan has developed a friendship with Presti over the years and the Thunder have hired two of Donovan's assistants recently.

Mark Daigneault is now head coach of the Thunder's D-League team, the OKC Blue and Oliver Winterbone was hired off of Donovan's staff to be the Thunder's Basketball Information Analyst.

But Donovan doesn't really know the Thunder core players and that could be his biggest drawback and the biggest risk to hiring him.

From what we've heard those are the top two guys but the way Presti operates, in full stealth mode most of the time, who knows who is really on his radar.

During his news conference he refused to put himself on any sort of timetable to hire coach. He said the process is just beginning and that it will be thorough.

As to that we can be sure...as to the coach Presti will have at his side during an introductory news conference in the future...not so sure.

 

 

 

Presti: "A Very Difficult Day."

Thunder GM Sam Presti admitted Wednesday was a tough day for him, flying to Los Angeles to personally deliver the news Scott Brooks didn't want to hear.

During an evening news conference at the Thunder practice facility Presti thanked Brooks for his contributions but said the time was right to move on.



Brooks Fired By Thunder, Billy Donovan May Be Top Candidate

By Randy Renner

After almost a week of rumors and speculation the Thunder have fired head coach Scott Brooks and speculation now centers on University of Florida coach Billy Donovan as his possible replacement.

Thunder GM Sam Presti flew to Brooks' off-season home in southern California to personally deliver the news. Brooks had one more guaranteed year left on a four year $18 million dollar contract.

Presti is expected to meet with the media late this afternoon or early this evening after returning from California.

Presti and the Thunder released this statement today on the Brooks developments.

“This is an extremely difficult decision on many levels. Scott helped establish the identity of the Thunder and has earned his rightful place in the history of our organization through his seven years as a valued leader and team member,” said Sam Presti, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager. “As we all know, this past year we had unique and challenging circumstances and as I have conveyed, not many people could have accomplished what Scott and this team were able to. Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, 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. We move forward with confidence in our foundation and embrace the persistence and responsibility that is required to construct an elite and enduring basketball organization capable of winning an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.”

 Brooks was named head coach of the Thunder on April 15, 2009 after serving as interim head coach during the 2008-09 campaign. Over the course of the last seven seasons, Brooks accumulated a 338-207 (.620) record with the Thunder and was named the 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year. An NBA veteran of over 24 years as a head coach, assistant and player, Brooks helped guide the Thunder to three appearances in the Western Conference Finals (2011, 2012, 2014), and a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals. 

 "We have a deep appreciation for all that Scott has contributed to the Thunder organization over the last seven years,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder Chairman. “He helped us build the foundation of this team and led us to much success. While a very hard decision, I support the need to transition to a new coach that will allow us to continue the growth and progress that will help us reach all of our goals. We wish Scott and his family only the best as he moves forward.”

Brooks is already being mentioned as a top candidate for head coaching jobs in Denver and Orlando. Both those teams fired their head coaches during the season and finished the year with interim coaches. The GM for the Magic is former Thunder assistant general manager Rob Hennigan so Brooks would be a natural fit there.

Brooks' .620 winning percentage is the best among active head coaches who have never won an NBA Championship. Injuries have played a key role in the Thunder's failure to win at least one title. Russell Westbrook was hurt in the playoffs in season before last and Serge Ibaka injured a calf in last season's playoffs. This season EVERYONE got hurt so it's easy to say Brooks never really had the opportunity to lead a fully healthy and experienced roster all the way through the playoffs.

The focus now shifts to who will replace Brooks, the guy who has been around either as head coach or an assistant for every year of Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka's careers.

Former Thunder player Kevin Ollie was linked this week to the Thunder head coaching job, but earlier today Ollie released a statement saying he planned to remain head coach of the Connecticut Huskies. Ollie remains close friends with his former Thunder teammates.

The latest speculation is now centering on University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who is a friend of Presti's and has won two national titles while coaching the Gators.

Donovan was very involved in recommending his former assistant Mark Daigneault  for the job as head coach of the Thunder's D-League team the OKC Blue.

But Donovan doesn't have a relationship (as far as we know) with the Thunder stars and one national report indicated Donovan has been researching Kevin Durant this week, so that tells you something right there.

The pressure is clearly on Presti to deliver a homerun hire in this of all years. Durant is heading into the final season of his contract and this next hire could make or break the Thunder for years to come.

 

 

 

Kevin Ollie: "No Plans To Pursue Other Opportunities."

By Randy Renner

The supposed next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder apparently won't be in that job next season (or next week) after all.

The University of Connecticut sent out a statement from basketball coach Kevin Ollie Wednesday morning. Ollie has been at the center of rumors and reports indicating Thunder GM Sam Presti had been speaking to him about taking over for Scott Brooks as head coach of the Thunder. Ollie played for Brooks as a member of the Thunder during the 2009-10 season.

While Presti has remained mum on the subject, Ollie has thrown water on the fire with this statement:

"As I have said many times, I am proud and honored to be the head basketball coach at the University of Connecticut and I have no plans to pursue other opportunities. We are already excited about next season and I am looking forward to preparing our team to be the best we can on the court, in the classroom and in our community."

Of course we've all heard coaches say they're not interested in leaving one place to go to another. Nick Saban famously announcing he wouldn't leave the Miami Dolphins for Alabama one day and showing up in Tuscaloosa the next immediately comes to mind, but I tend to believe Ollie on this one.

What this does for Brooks' job security isn't clear. Billy Donovan's name was also mentioned in the original report last week that started all this speculating. Donovan is a good friend of Presti's and was very involved in getting former assistant Mark Daigneault the job as coach of the Thunder's D-League team, the OKC Blue.

Donovan has also won a couple of national championships at the University of Florida. And if Presti is dead set on letting Brooks go and bring in someone else there would certainly be no shortage of candidates for what would be one of the most attractive jobs in the NBA.

Presti is still scheduled to have his regular end of the season news conference on Friday morning, about a week later than it usually is.

We'll have full coverage here on the website and as usual you can check for breaking news on our Twitter feed page.

 

 

 

 

Presti Should Stop Letting Brooks Twist In The Wind

By Randy Renner

Another day and another report that the Thunder are actively searching for a new head coach and that would be fine if the Thunder had an opening at that position.

So it's time now for Thunder GM Sam Presti to come out and say something about Brooks' job status, don't let a coach who's been a good soldier all these years just twist in the wind with every media report and rumor.

A few weeks ago when rumors were flying that Travis Ford was about to lose his job at OSU, Cowboys athletic director Mike Holder issued a statement saying Ford's job was secure and that ended that.

Even Presti issued a statement toward the end of the regular season when wild internet reports suggested the Thunder would trade Kevin Durant rather than let him get away in free agency.

But on this issue, so far only silence from Presti. Maybe that's because he's already got a general news conference scheduled with reporters for Friday to discuss the Thunder's season. It's his annual end of the season visit, though it's coming about a week later than it usually does. Maybe that's because the season ended earlier than Presti thought it would and he had other things going on. Maybe it's because he really has been out talking with other coaches.

As it currently stands (as far as we know at least) Scott Brooks is still the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last week when he spoke with reporters he told us “I expect to be the coach (next season) and I'm proud to be the coach of this organization. I love being here," Brooks said on Thursday.

He was asked about his future because earlier that day the first national report came out that Brooks' boss might already be looking for his replacement and again so far Presti has been silent on the reports which is adding some fuel to what is becoming a sizeable fire.

Yahoo! Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, who is perhaps the most respected NBA reporter out there, broke the original story saying Presti would fully evaluate Brooks' job performance before bringing him back for the last guaranteed year of his contract and Woj said if the Thunder decided to fire Brooks a couple of candidates might already be waiting in the wings, University of Florida coach Billy Donovan and University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie.

The fact Woj wrote that piece gave it instant credibility, though one has to assume Presti evaluates everyone's job performance every season.

Then yesterday another report about Ollie. This one from SNY.tv (the cable channel that telecasts UConn basketball games along with Nets basketball, Mets baseball and Rangers hockey in the New York area) saying that Ollie is under "serious consideration" to take over for Brooks and that Presti had visited with Ollie at least three times recently.

If Brooks had already been fired most of us here in the local media would probably assume Kevin Ollie would be at or near the top of the Thunder's wish list. He was a highly respected player and was on the Thunder roster during the 2009-10 season, the first in which the Thunder made the playoffs. Kevin Durant has always spoken highly of Ollie, saying in a 2014 interview after Ollie led the UConn Huskies to the national championship, “Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us. He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City.”

Ollie has also already been considered for a couple of NBA jobs with the Cavaliers and the Lakers and it's widely assumed he will be a head coach in the NBA someday soon.

Ollie has remained close with Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Presti. And with Brooks too for that matter.

It seems strange and out of character that Ollie and Presti would actually meet to discuss an opening that doesn't exist and stab a coach in the back who has towed the company line since before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.

That's why Presti needs to quash these rumors now, it's unseemly, it's disrespectful, it's not the "Thunder way." And remember he wasted no time in putting a stop to the KD trade reports.

If he doesn't, if this is allowed to percolate on the front pages of newspapers and websites and in the first segments of TV newscasts all the way to that Friday news conference then something is truly up and someone may in fact be out.