Coach of the Year winner Scott Brooks was already slated to be the coach of the Thunder for the foreseeable future, but Sam Presti made it official by picking up Brook’s contract through the 2011-2012 season.
Not exactly shocking news. The Thunder were incredibly successful this season, particularly relative to their dismal 23-59 in ’08-’09. Brooks may not be as pivotal to that success as, say, Kevin Durant, but it’s his system that turned a team of mostly young players into a defensive force. Oklahoma City was had a top-10 defense this season and the 2nd best defense in the Western Conference. That’s worth noting for any team, much less one boasting so many players in their first few years in the league.
However, I do find it a bit odd that the Sacramento Kings were criticized by many when they picked up coach Paul Westphal’s third-year option (guaranteeing his salary for 2011-2012 as well) almost a month ago, and yet there seems to be no such criticism when it comes to the Thunder’s treatment of Brooks. Brooks is more deserving of the guaranteed money and did a better job this year in OKC than Westphal did in Sacramento, but considering that the crux of that argument — as I understood it — concerned the timing of the “extension” more than anything else, isn’t Brooks more or less in the same boat?
The Kings lack the stability of the Thunder, but given how fast a good situation can go south in this league and especially how quickly a Coach of the Year winner can bite the dust (most of the winners of the award in this decade have only lasted some two seasons with their respective teams after winning, with the notable exceptions being San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Cleveland’s Mike Brown), I don’t see Brooks as decidedly different. Maybe a slightly better coach but not without his own faults.
Brooks was terrific this season, but premature timing is premature timing, right?. If it was wrong with Westphal, then it’s still wrong with Brooks. When the Kings exercised Westphal’s option, the timing did seem a bit curious, yet when the circumstances are just a bit different, a move like this one seems to be a natural part of establishing a winning culture.
In reality, Westphal and Brooks are likely much closer in terms of coaching aptitude than the Kings and Thunder were in terms of performance. It’s hard to determine the precise impact of each given their respective rosters, but there’s no question that the Thunder’s season to remember will color opinions of this move favorably by the public and the media. That’s fine given OKC’s success this year, but at on a theoretical basis, this move is no different than the Kings picking up Westphal’s third-year option. They had time and could’ve waited but didn’t, and have guaranteed Brooks’ third year salary when they didn’t need to just yet.
A month ago, I said that the Kings acted strangely with regard to guaranteeing Westphal’s 2011-2012 salary. I was wrong. Stability really is important, and if the Kings want to even sniff the success of the Thunder while their core is still young, they could learn a lot from Presti’s model. It’s more than a “Well, if the Thunder did it, it must be alright” argument, though. This is a case where the possible negatives (a pretty modest 2010-2011 coaching salary) don’t even come close to matching the potential positives (removing doubt, giving a coach the freedom to operate, team stability), and both teams made the right call.
Paul Westphal’s Kings may not have taken the Lakers to six games, but if Sacramento wants to establish something real, this is the way to do it. The NBA will always be more about the players than the coaches, which makes sense. That said, coaches still hold great symbolic value in this league, and in the case of the Thunder and the Kings, it’s more about each franchise committing to a system and an idea than it is about committing to a head coach.