It's almost impossible to tell how Scott Brooks truly feels about what transpired with his team in the aftermath of Russell Westbrook's knee injury during last year's postseason.
One minute the Thunder coach acknowledges how the second-round exit wasn't the team's definition of success but credits his team for hanging tough and fighting hard under difficult circumstances.
The next, Brooks seems to rationalize why Oklahoma City came up short.
“We didn't have the success that we wanted against Memphis but, really, the games that we lost came down to the last minutes,” Brooks said. “Each of those games came down to one or two possessions. So that's not saying if we would have done one or two things differently we would have won by 15.”
That last bit leaves you left wondering.
What would Brooks change if he could go back and coach the 2013 playoffs again? Or would he change nothing?
In a sense, we're about to find out.
On Tuesday, we learned that this Thunder season will start like last year's ended — without the team's All-Star point guard. Westbrook will miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose stitch in his surgically repaired right knee.
In April, Brooks and the Thunder had 2 1/2 days to adjust. This time, the team has a full training camp and seven-game preseason schedule, seemingly ample time to adopt a workable plan in Westbrook's absence.
“Whoever we have on the floor, we feel if we execute and we do what we're supposed to do we'll give ourselves a chance to win,” Brooks said.
Then there's this.
“You don't anticipate guys going down,” Brooks said, “but you have to have a system to fall back on.”
Much of the Thunder's downfall last season stemmed from failing to have a plan B. When Westbrook and Kevin Durant no longer could share the offensive load, the Thunder began piling up Durant's plate. As a result, Durant's minutes and usage skyrocketed in the final nine games. The Thunder's offense quickly lost its way. It became predictable. A one-man show.
Durant did his best to carry the load. He orchestrated the offense more than he ever had and played all five positions throughout various points of the playoffs. The percentage of plays in which Durant isolated his defender more than doubled.
The strategy ultimately was enough to keep the Thunder competitive for 3 1/2 quarters. But scoring became a chore in a bogged-down offense (according to nba.com/stats, the team's points per 100 possessions dropped from 110.2 points in the regular season to 102.5 in the playoffs), and the burden only wore out Durant when he was needed most down the stretch.
So what will be different?
Brooks has returned for 2013-14 again stressing ball movement. The Thunder finished in the bottom third in assists last season and ranked 11th among last year's 16 playoff teams. Without Westbrook's 7.4 assists per game, the Thunder will try to turn to precise ball movement to get players like Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins easy shot opportunities.
Beyond that, Brooks might have no choice early on but to let Reggie Jackson run wild. Jackson in all likelihood will step in as the starting point guard and he'll have to replicate his postseason performance, when he averaged 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 36.2 minutes per game following Westbrook's injury.
Much of the talk in the opening days of camp has been about how much more confident Jackson has looked as a leader.
“Reggie has done a great job in the first six practices that we've had in the last (few) days, establishing being a better player even more so than he was last season,” Brooks said.
Brooks might also need to trust his youngsters, something he hasn't truly done since James Harden's second season. Second-year guard Jeremy Lamb is just 21 but he was the prized piece in the Harden package. After only 147 regular season minutes as a rookie, Lamb could now start the season as the Thunder's most valuable bench scorer.
“We have players with high character who understand the situation that we're in,” Brooks said. “We're not feeling sorry for ourselves, and we shouldn't. We have a good team.”