Scotty Brooks said he got the message from Sam Presti before this most recent NBA season. “Either NBA Finals or adios.”
Good Tuesday in Thunderville. Your heroes have the coach they want. Foreman Scotty has the job he wants.
But it all comes at a price.
A little bit of Thunder innocence is gone.
Everyman remains the coach; Brooks still looks and acts like the friendly insurance adjuster who lives across the street. Still is the aw-shucks coach who charms his team of baby Boomers and gets them to play fanatically.
But now Brooks is making in the neighborhood of $4.5 million a year.
That's Laker/Maverick money. That's what Mike Brown gets paid to win championships in LA and Rick Carlisle gets paid to do the same in Dallas.
That's more money than the Thunder pays Thabo Sefolosha or Nick Collison, and it asks the former to guard LeBron James and the latter to slow Dirk Nowitzki.
Pay an NBA coach $4.5 million for four years, and inherent pressure arrives. Pay an NBA coach $4.5 million, and suddenly it doesn't seem so charming when he forgets to play Thabo more than nine minutes in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Brooks indicated he knew the new score.
“My job is to get better,” Brooks admitted. “I'm not going to stand up here and say I'm great.”
Brooks is not the finished product as an NBA coach. Neither is his team. But the Thunder is getting there fast, so its coach has to keep up.
Brooks has done a superb job of gently guiding his historically youthful team to greatness. Any horse will tell you sugar trumps the whip.
Presti credited Brooks with installing the Thunder culture. Hard work. Teamwork. Sticking together through tough times, be they a sorry season or a four-minute slump in the pits of a playoff game.
“Although we've had a lot of change in personnel over time, the consistency and habits that have been formed are a credit to Scott,” Presti said. “He's been integral to building those habits.”
All true. But the Thunder is guaranteeing Brooks $18 million over four years not for what he has done, but for what it is hoped he will do. The Thunder is not paying for past performance, it is paying for future performance.
The time to win is now. Who knows what the future will bring? We know what 2012-13 will bring: a roster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Collison and Thabo.
Brooks has been an excellent coach. In the last three years, the Thunder has the NBA's third-best collective regular-season record, a game behind the Bulls and a game ahead of the Heat. During that time, the Thunder has more playoff series victories (five) than all but the Heat (seven), Lakers (six) and Celtics (six).
That's why there was no need for the Thunder to chase Phil Jackson or one of the Van Gundys or whatever shiny coach is available.
The Thunder had its coach, and Brooks deserved a big bump from his previous salary, believed to be $2.1 million.
Presti said the bump will not impede the Thunder's arduous task of keeping its core players.
A $4.5 million salary pales compared to what it will cost to keep Harden and Ibaka, and what it already cost to secure Durant and Westbrook, and the payroll cap has nothing to do with coaches' salary.
But in a market like Oklahoma City, paying Brooks $4.5 million instead of $3.5 million means a million dollars that could have gone to helping pay the future luxury tax the Thunder might face.
In the NBA, $1 million is chump change, but everything adds up.
The Thunder walks a tightrope. The franchise had leverage on Brooks; it knew this was the job he wanted.
But the Thunder also knew it would be a tougher sell to keep Harden and Ibaka without the only NBA coach they've ever played for. And now the Thunder must ask Harden and Ibaka to sacrifice and take below-market value when their coach did not, though again, that's a theory Presti privately rejected, saying management knows the dynamics and it would not impact its potential approach to player contracts.
No one ever said winning big in the NBA was easy, on the court or off.
So now the Thunder has its coach secured. It's the coach everybody wanted. But it came at a price.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.