What, you expected Kevin Durant to throw his coach under the bus? Have you followed the guy at all?
“That’s our guy. I’m riding with him. I’m riding with him. It’s easy for everybody on the outside to criticize, but once you’re in the fire, once you’re in that arena, those are the guys that matter. The guys that share the blood, sweat and tears, and sleepless nights, those are the guys that count, those are the guys that matter in our book. Everybody on the outside really doesn’t.”
That was Kevin Durant when asked about Brooks’ job security, as transcribed by Royce Young at Daily Thunder.
Then there is Russell Westbrook, via Jeff Caplan at NBA.com.
“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”
There are a lot of voices around the NBA suggesting it is time for Scott Brooks to go, for a new coach to see if he can lift this team to the next level.
There is logic to the argument — the Thunder run pretty simple offensive sets, ones that rely heavily on the creativity of Westbrook and Durant, but that leave the other players without as much of a defined role. The role players on this team sometimes play their role, sometimes, step up, but their definition of what to do is more nebulous.
One of the keys to San Antonio’s success, to making their depth work is Gregg Popovich clearly defines everyone’s role. Everyone. Including Tim Duncan. But when Marco Belinelli arrives at training camp he isn’t wondering “where do I fit in” he is told exactly how that is going to happen. Phil Jackson used a different methodology — he suggested and guided, then let the players come to their own realizations that what he wanted was best — but he got to the same place. His role players understood and bought into exactly what they were supposed to do.
Do we see that with the Thunder?
All that said, what Brooks does do is build strong relationships with his players — they play hard for him. They respect him. They want to win for him. That matters.
There are questions for the Thunder to answer here:
Do you let go of a coach who got you to the Eastern Conference Finals that your two cornerstone, superstar players want back?
Maybe more importantly in a small market, do you fire a coach you will still need to pay at leaf $8 million total to over the next two seasons anyway? To bring in a name coach who is going to command a large salary?
My hunch is that Sam Presti answers those questions no.
The Thunder realize they have a window that is still open for years to come. The only real clock is Durant’s 2016 free agency (and Westbrook a year later) and there may be no superstar since Duncan more loyal and built to play in a smaller market than KD. They will not be rushed.
The Thunder are close — they were one of the three best teams in the NBA this season, they were contenders. Consistency matters in these situations when trying to take that last step, you only make big changes when you have to and know there is a sure thing upgrade. We’ll see how it plays out, but I don’t see the Thunder organization thinking change is the answer.