NEW ORLEANS — Two years ago, someone asked TNT analyst Kenny Smith a question about the Thunder.
“What's the interim coach's name from Oklahoma City?”
“They still thought he was the interim coach,” Smith marveled.
Scott Brooks was the coach of an NBA Finalist but still flying under the radar.
Two years later, it seems not much has changed.
Brooks on Sunday night will coach the Western Conference All-Stars for the second time in three years. But despite the Thunder's NBA-best 43-12 record, and all of the team's success under his guidance over the past 4 1/2 seasons, Brooks strangely still doesn't seem to get credit as an elite coach.
It's a reality that TNT analyst Charles Barkley pointed out on a national conference call leading into this year's All-Star festivities.
“Scott Brooks is the most underrated coach in the NBA right now,” Barkley said. “They've won every single year and they keep getting better. I think they would have been in the Finals last year if (Russell) Westbrook had not gotten hurt. And missing Westbrook this year, they still have the best record in the NBA.
“He's like (former Los Angeles Lakers head coach) Pat Riley, who never got credit for being a great coach. People say, ‘Well, he has great players.' (Miami head coach) Erik Spoelstra gets credit and he has three great players. Oklahoma City is quickly becoming the best organization in the NBA. He is the one consistent force with that group. It bothers me that he doesn't get enough credit.”
Brooks said it doesn't bother him.
“It's not something that I wake up and search,” Brooks said. “I've had my day in the sun. It was nice … So I don't look for the attention. I don't need it. I really love what I do and I love who I'm coaching.”
The Thunder is on pace to win 64 games, a mark that would increase the team's winning percentage for the sixth straight season. And the team has done it despite missing Westbrook being out for 30 games while recovering from a third surgery.
Yet the Coach of the Year conversation has widely been a two-man discussion centered on Portland's Terry Stotts and Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek.
Indiana and East All-Star coach Frank Vogel said this week that if he had a vote he would cast it for Hornacek.
Once again, Brooks didn't bat an eye.
Asked what a second Coach of the Year award would mean to him, Brooks said “Absolutely zero.”
“Don't get me wrong, I'll take it,” Brooks said. “But that does not motivate me one bit. I don't think about it. I mean, it's an honor to have received that award once. I'm not disrespecting that award, because it's a lot that goes into coaching. There's so many things that I never even knew existed. As a player, I always had respect for coaches, and I had no clue on what the amount of stress and decisions they have to go through. I mean, you have to come up with 82 different ties and suits, and I did a horrible job with that. Thankfully, I have a daughter that takes care of me in that department.”
Smith, a former teammate of Brooks with the Rockets, said Brooks might not get attention because he blends in on the sidelines.
“His demeanor doesn't allow him to be seen,” Smith said. “He sits probably just as much as he stands. A lot of coaches never sit. They stand the whole game. You see them. They have a bigger presence. They're bigger, taller. He's still a small guy. He just blends in. But I know he doesn't blend in verbally with what he says. His knowledge of the game is very impressive.
“He's picked the right things that he's learned to implement. We've all played for a lot of coaches and seen a lot of systems. And so when you get that opportunity, which one might work? He's picked the right one. Whoever he channeled, he picked the right person. And that's a hard thing to do.”