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.