When the clock ticked inside of what could best be described as a harrowing final hour of contract negotiations between Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, the thing that ultimately kept the team's coveted free agent coach from now pacing the sidelines of the Portland Trail Blazers was a text message.
It came from Kevin Durant.
“It was like the day before they got something done,” Durant said. “I think that day was the toughest.”
The message moved Brooks, who had been tied up in tense on-again, off-again talks that had put his future with the Thunder in jeopardy.
“During negotiations, it can be stressful at times,” Durant said. “One day it looks like something's going to get done and then the next it might not. So I reached out to him and just told him I loved him and let me know what happens.”
Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian, a close friend of Brooks, facilitated the conversation, encouraging Durant to reach out to his head coach and tell Brooks how he felt. Kalamian thought it would do a world of good. It was one thing for Durant to communicate his feelings about Brooks to the other assistants. It was a whole other, especially during those final days that were filled with doubt and frustration, for Durant to dial up Brooks directly.
“I'm the leader of this team,” Durant said. “And I don't think he had heard from me until that time. So I wanted to let him know that I wanted him back and I really enjoy playing for him. So that goes a long way, and I guess that helped him a little bit with his decision. I'm glad he's back. I'm glad he's with us.”
When the deal finally got done — a four-year extension that will pay Brooks roughly $4 million annually — both sides put smiles on their faces and said all the right things in front of the cameras. Their united front belied the battle that had taken place, with both sides suffering bruises by holding firm to their positions.
Brooks had helped the Thunder blossom into an elite team, rapidly developing players alongside his staff while doing all the right things as a loyal employee on the notoriously tightly run ship that's been crafted in Oklahoma City. He took the team to the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012 and wanted to be compensated accordingly, for his sacrifices and his successes.
On the Thunder's end, there was a desire for continuity, a chief tenet of the franchise. But when the consummation of a deal dragged, it was natural to wonder whether the Thunder thought Brooks ultimately was the coach who could captain OKC to the title.
The differing attitudes had created a chasm sizable enough to stall talks that had originated before the start of the 2011-12 season. Numerous reports last summer cited sources that said Brooks had turned down multiple three-year offers in the neighborhood of $11 million.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti tabled negotiations during the team's playoff run, which set off both an unexpected waiting game and a flood of press coverage. Presti, one of the league's new age analytical executives, is believed to have a formula for everything, including what price Brooks should have been penciled in at — and the data on championship coaches didn't point to up-and-comers like Brooks but slanted heavily to older, more experienced coaches.