It was not surprising when Oklahoma City Thunder’s general manager Sam Presti announced the firing of coach Scott Brooks recently. In a statement, Presti intimated that “This is an extremely difficult decision on many levels. 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.”
Scott Brooks has an impressive resume. He actually played 10 seasons in the NBA and is part of the 1994 Houston Rockets championship team. He was named interim coach of the Thunder in November 2008 and became the full-time coach in April 2009. He ended his first season with a 22-47 record. In his next five seasons, he led the Thunder to the playoffs including 3 Western Conference Finals and the 2012 NBA Finals. He was also named the 2009-2010 NBA Coach of the Year and coached two All-Star games. Moreover, he developed and nurtured the talent of this young squad and made them perennial contenders. The only thing missing is an NBA championship.
The Thunder failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons despite having a winning record of 45-37. This is reflective of the tough Western Conference. This failure could not be blamed on Brooks alone since he had to make do with injuries to his key players. Kevin Durant only played 27 games while Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka missed 15 and 18 games, respectively.
Still, management felt it needed to bring in a new brain thrust to lead the Thunder to the Promised Land. More importantly, the Thunder needed this change if only to convince their core to stay and believe in the Thunder’s plans for the future. Kevin Durant, who is about to enter the prime of his career, will become a free agent after the 2016 season. A year after that, Russell Westbrook also becomes a free agent. There is a sense of urgency that major changes are needed to keep the team intact.
Presti has gone all in to win a championship and the firing of Brooks underscores his desire to do so. During the season, he brought in an explosive guard (Dion Waiters) and a promising center (Enes Kanter) – two blue-chip players to bolster the Thunder line-up. A healthy Thunder next season would arguably have the best starting unit in the league.
The next question now is who is going to replace Brooks. Two coaches have come up namely UConn’s Kevin Ollie—a former Thunder—and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Both have championship pedigree but it would be a gamble to have college coaches steer a talented team with an impatient head office.
The Thunder needs to get an NBA coach who has had much success. Looking at the roster of former and current NBA coaches, two names come to mind Mike D’Antoni and the Chicago Bulls’ Tim Thibodeau. D’Antoni is currently out of the job but his fast-paced, offense oriented system could unleash the full potential this team.Thibodeau, meanwhile, is reportedly at odds with Chicago’s front office and looks like his days are numbered as head coach. Thibs is best known for his defensive mind helping lead the Boston Celtics to a title in 2008.