My mission in New Orleans Saturday night, the first day of the Scott Brooks era, was to get the scoop on what happened to fired coach P.J. Carlesimo, to find out where he went wrong and whether he lost this Thunder team.
But as one player graciously told me after hearing me receive company line after company line before the Thunder took the court against the Hornets, “You know we’re going to take the high road.” Not that it was needed, but that confirmed there was more to the story of Carlesimo’s dismissal. More to it than the Thunder’s 1-12 record, its 10 straight losses, it’s league-worst averages of 17 turnovers, 12-plus point defeats, 40 percent field-goal shooting and its second-to-last ranking of 89 points per game.
But Thunder players did say all the right things Saturday, wishing Carlesimo the best in his future endeavors and even going as far as taking the blame for his downfall. Here are their comments in full. It’s long, but all told it gives you an idea of the mood of the players, all of whom felt some sort of change was needed but stopped short of saying it should have started with Carlesimo’s job.
On his reaction: “It’s never easy, especially when you realize that in this type of game everyone’s involved, everyone failed, not just P.J. So we wish the best for him. We wish we could have done a lot more to help him. But this is where we at right now.”
On whether a change was needed: “It’s not up to me to decide if a change was needed. I feel like whatever the coach wants to do we try to make the best out of it and we try to make it work.”
On whether P.J. lost the team: “I just feel like it was a difficult transition for him coming into the situation. Only he can really answer that question.”
On whether the team respected him: “I’ve always respected P.J. I always will. That’s just me.”
On what went wrong: “I don’t know.”
On his reaction: “I didn’t know it would happen. It caught me off guard. It was a shock. This is my first time going through this. Some of the older guys went through coaching changes and things like that. But P.J. was my first coach when I came into the league so this is something that’s going to stick out to me. When they announced it to the team it came out of nowhere and I was a little shocked. But we got to move forward. We got to move past that. Scotty Brooks is our guy now. I believe in everything he’s going to do for us so we just got to continue to get better.”
On whether a change was needed: “It’s not my position to say if it was needed or not. I think we were getting better. Obviously the front office wanted to make a decision so that’s what they did. But I’m just not in a position to say we needed that or P.J. was a bad guy. We just got to, as players, do our part to help this team win.”
On whether the team respected him as a coach: “I would say so. He demanded a lot out of us. Every day in practice he brought that fire and every day in the game so I would say we respected him. I know I did a lot.”
On whether P.J. lost the team: “I think that was all on us how we were losing and how we were playing. We told ourselves that it’s not on the coaches it’s on us. Because we’re out there playing. That’s the main thing, we got to play hard.”
On his reaction: “I was a little shocked. I think P.J. worked extremely hard to have us as prepared as he possibly could for every game last year and this year. I think we put a lot of blame on him when we didn’t do enough looking in the mirror. That’s unfortunate for him.”
On whether P.J. lost the team: “I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. We were all so frustrated by not winning. I think it was even more frustrating to lose the way we’ve been losing. It’s hard for everybody.”
On whether a change was needed: “I think anytime you start off 1-12 and you’re losing games by an average margin of like 20 points (really 12) or being down by 20 in every game a change somewhere is needed. That doesn’t always mean it’s with the coaching staff. Unfortunately, in this business it always ends up being the coaches first. Whatever happens after that happens. But it’s unfortunate it had to be coach P.J. to be the first one to go. But I guess a change had to come from somewhere, whether it was going to be in our lineup or whether it was going to be our coach. I think we all felt that. At some point we had to change up something. Something had to be done to try to get us on track to try to salvage this season before it gets out of hand.”
On whether P.J. lost the team and a change was needed: “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. We were struggling. We’ve been struggling obviously. But I don’t think you can say a coaching change is going to change everything. We’re not doing a very good job of anything right now. So it’s going to take a lot to change how we’re doing. I think when a coach gets fired like this it’s a reflection on our entire team, not just him. It’s not just his fault. We’ve all struggled and we’ve all failed so far.”
On whether the team respected P.J.: “I think P.J. had the respect of guys. I think to a man most everybody liked P.J. and thought he was fair. That’s the way I felt about him. Things just get tough when you’re having a year like this. Things have happened, but I equate that more to the frustrations of the losing than to people not having respect for P.J. I think everyone in here pretty much respected P.J.”
On whether a change was needed: “I don’t know. A change was definitely needed but I don’t know if it necessarily needed to be P.J. because at the end of the day we’re on the court.”
On whether P.J. lost the team: “I don’t think he lost the team. I think us as professionals, we just didn’t come and compete every day. It’s not the coach.”
On why the move was made: “It’s hard to put a finger on it. That’s something that Sam can speak on more. I know, for me, we want to win basketball games. For us, we have to go out and do our part as a team, the five guys on the floor to give us an opportunity to do that. Just like players, sometimes coaches make mistakes with play calls or the rotation or things like that. But again, the players still have to go out and do their part and play hard.”
On whether P.J. lost the team: “I don’t think he lost the team and I don’t think the guys stopped listening. We have a young team and that’s something that veteran type teams do. Guys kind of say, ‘You know what, forget this I’m going in my own direction.’ But we got young guys that want to go out and compete and they want to do well and they’re trying to prove themselves in this league. So a guy like Russell is not going to make a conscious decision to go out and say, ‘You know what, I’m just done.’ He hasn’t played but 12 games. So I don’t think that was the case. I just think it was a case that we had gotten frustrated as a team with not winning basketball games. We had gotten in situations where we make runs on teams or we get leads and teams start attacking us and we just could figure out how to fight back. And those things were just frustrating as a whole.”