In his first public comments since the conclusion of the Thunder’s season, Sam Presti on Thursday ended all speculation surrounding Scott Brooks.
The general manager said the coach is coming back.
“Scotty, I think, did an excellent job,” Presti said at his annual season-ending news conference. “I understand we all have a tendency to look at the last game or the last series. I respect that. That’s part of sports. I can’t do that. I’m looking at a body of work. I’m looking at an understanding of what drives our success and the way in which we’ve gotten to this point.”
Brooks, Presti believes, is a big part of the reason.
The Thunder has won at least 61 percent of its games in each of Brooks’ five full seasons at the helm, and the team improved its winning percentage in five straight seasons before this year.
In the face of the most adversity the franchise has experienced in the Oklahoma City era, Brooks helped kept the team afloat. The Thunder went 25-11 without Russell Westbrook as he bounced in and out of the lineup because of three knee surgeries in 2013. Oklahoma City also went 10-5 during a month-long stretch in which both Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins were sidelined with injuries from March to early April.
The Thunder journeyed to the Western Conference Finals this year for the third time in four seasons and came two wins shy of reaching the NBA Finals. In the process, OKC won 59 games and captured its fourth straight Northwest Division championship.
“We’ll never take for granted, in Oklahoma City, the opportunity to raise a banner in Chesapeake Arena, as we did with our fourth division title,” Presti said. “We won’t take for granted 59 wins. Those are things that we respect, we cherish and most importantly we understand will be hard to replicate.”
Throughout the season, Brooks showed growth with his play-calling, in-game adjustments and his willingness to rely on the entire roster.
When Sefolosha and Perkins went down, Brooks replaced them in the starting lineup with two rookies, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams. As the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, Adams, with 99 total games, appeared in more games this season than any other rookie. Second year-guard Jeremy Lamb played 1,538 regular season minutes this year after receiving just 147 last year, while second-year forward Perry Jones III started seven games and showed signs of developing into an all-around weapon, especially from 3-point range, where he attempted 61 shots after taking only two last season.
“I was incredibly proud of how the team performed,” Presti said of how the Thunder battled injuries. “And I really think that speaks to the coaching staff’s job of utilizing the different options on the team, the development work that’s taking place and the versatility of the guys that are in place. I think being able to survive those circumstances are what high-performance teams are able to do; being able to deal with unforeseen and expect the expectations to remain consistent, which is what we’ve done.”
The Thunder also has a history of standing by its people rather than making rash decisions. It’s one of the reasons Brooks was rewarded back in 2012 with a deal that was reported to be valued in the neighborhood of $16 million over four years. It’s also why Brooks was widely assumed to be safe — in addition to the two public endorsements Brooks received Sunday from his two star players, Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Of course, Brooks still has plenty of room to improve. His rotations, overall game management and offensive system continue to raise questions. And as the Thunder’s season labored on this year, it started to become unclear whether Brooks has the ability or the temperament to hold his players accountable and demand from them more defensive consistency and smarter offensive decisions.
“Scott, like every single person in this organization, and I think he said this himself, is going to take a look at the ways that he can move the needle and grow incrementally,” Presti said. “That’s the platform that we’re on at this point, is stacking successful seasons on top of each other; increasing our odds to take a really unique amount of time that we’ve been successful and extend that into a very, very unique amount of time.
“And in order to do that, you have to look at yourself critically every year and that starts with me. That starts with everyone in the program, and I think Scott will do the same and come back a little bit better.”