Rule No. 1 for an NBA GM is “keep your talent” — firing Brooks was all about keeping Kevin Durant in OKC. Durant is a free agent in 2016. (Then Russell Westbrook becomes a free agent the following summer.) It is imperative the Thunder win next season to make it much harder for Durant to leave.
Thunder GM Sam Presti gambled making this move without consulting Durant, but Durant backs it. Now the pressure is on Presti — he wants a more modern offense, not the conventional and predictable one Brooks ran. He wants a coach who can elevate the team. Like Phil Jackson taking over for Doug Collins in Toronto. Like Steve Kerr taking over for Mark Jackson in Golden State.
So who will be the next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Who will be trusted to upgrade their offense to take better advantage of all that talent? Here are the top five names out there.
1) Billy Donovan. The early buzz around the league is if the Florida coach wants the gig he can have it. He has a relationship with OKC’s Presti. You can add to that rumors floating around Donovan will jump to the NBA for the “right” opportunity — even Donovan’s former Gator star Bradley Beal said he thinks he is destined for the NBA. There are not many opportunities that are more “right” than OKC. Front offices around the NBA like Donovan. He is believed to have the Xs and Os chops to make the jump, plus he is a strong motivator.
I’m not sure this makes a ton of sense. My question for OKC: Are you sure a first-year coach out of the college ranks is your guy who can elevate this team to the highest levels of the NBA? That is a massive gamble. On the other side, if you’re Donovan you have to ask Durant his intentions — if you make the jump to Oklahoma City and Durant leaves in a year (which likely is followed by Westbrook leaving the year after) you’ve left a quality, secure college gig for a tough rebuild in the NBA. Will he take that risk?
2) Kevin Ollie. The UConn coach is another college guy a number of NBA teams have had their eye on, a high IQ guy who comes with 13 years of NBA background as a player. Why he becomes interesting to the Thunder is Ollie’s final NBA season was in Oklahoma City with Durant and KD has gushed about how much he learned from and looked up to Ollie. This is a hiring that would get the Kevin Durant seal of approval, and reportedly Ollie is interested. For me, the two questions that apply to Donovan apply to Ollie: Is OKC sure a young college coach is the guy to take an NBA team from good to great? And does Ollie really want to give up one of the best gigs in college hoops for this risk if Durant might well bolt?
3) Tom Thibodeau. He is currently still a little busy, what with coaching the Chicago Bulls and all (who likely advance to the second round of the playoffs). That said, rumors continue to swirl around the NBA out of Chicago that after this season the friction between Thibodeau and Gar Forman will finally be enough for the Bulls to send Thibs packing. If so, the Thunder have to consider him — this is a guy who has proven he can elevate a team. The Thunder defense will get better instantly. Tell him he has to hire an offensive guru as an assistant if you must, but you’re not going to find a better, harder-working coach. And one that has a relationship with Durant and Westbrook through USA Basketball. That said, he costs bank to hire. Would the Thunder be willing to give up a future first rounder to get him out of Chicago?
4) Alvin Gentry. Last season he was Doc Rivers’ lead assistant in charge of the offense, and the Clippers had the best offense in the NBA. This season he’s Steve Kerr’s lead assistant and the guy behind the innovative offense in Golden State offense Presti covets. If you want a modern offense, he’s your guy. He didn’t elevate teams he was coached before (the 2010 Suns got to the conference Finals but lost to Lakers), but is he ready now? The Thunder would have to be patient until the Warriors’ playoff run is over (that’s likely at least a month away, maybe six weeks). Maybe make him bring in a defensive guru as an assistant, but while some would say this is a retread hire it might be the perfect fit.
5) Mark Jackson. His name will come up, as it does for virtually every vacancy. His players in Golden State loved him, ran through walls for him, and they won. He built the foundation that the Warriors grew off of this season. That said, two problems here. First, he’s not the guy who did the elevating with the Warriors. If you thought Brooks ran conventional, predictable sets you should go watch film of Jackson’s Warriors. Second, he created an “us vs. the world” mentality in the locker room where the world included team management. There was a lot of friction. Not sure the Thunder invite that into their house.