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.