Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Emails in on Scotty Brooks

by Berry Tramel Published: April 26, 2014
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The emails are in on Scotty Brooks. And lots of unrest, lots of calls for a coaching change.

Coach X: “I am a local high school basketball coach and a Thunder season ticket holder.  I’ve been around the game for a long, long time.  When we started out that inaugural season so poorly, Scott Brooks was a great fit for such a young, inexperienced team.  He was the ‘clap it up’ type of coach that would be positive to that young group in every situation, giving them the support that a parent would give to a child when they know that they’ve done something wrong but the parent doesn’t want to rule with ‘tough love’. But this team has different expectations now and a much more talented roster.  He DOES NOT hold his guys accountable.  You see KD lose his man defensively time and time again, Brooks will get irritated and call a timeout, but then nobody gets held accountable. We’ve already seen this same EXACT scenario take place in Oklahoma.  When John Blake was the OU head football coach, there was talent here, but he wanted to pat everybody on the back for everything, not wanting to rule with an iron fist.  But as soon as Bob Stoops came in and started holding everybody accountable, look what happened. Same thing with the Thunder. Scott Brooks is the new John Blake.  He is in over his head, the talent is there, we now need somebody to come in and rule with an iron fist and hold these guys accountable for shot selection, defensive effort and playing with a passion again.”

Oh boy. We have jumped the shark in Scotty Brooks criticism. He’s been compared to John Blake. A guy who went 12-22 coaching the Sooners is being compared to a guy who is 7-4 in NBA playoff series. Virtually everything this coach says is untrue. The Thunder needs a coach with an iron fist? Holding guys accountable? This is the world of view of emperor coaches. Coaches on the high school run their program. The players have no standing. They have to do as they’re told. College coaches are even worse. At big-time programs, they rule not just the basketball team, but sometimes the university. They can have the schedule changed, they can have the uniforms changed, they can have the players dismissed. That’s not the way it works in the NBA. In the NBA, coaches have to have players’ cooperation. Yes, the Thunder can drive us all crazy with some of their antics. They also can play at a wondrous level. And they do much more of the latter than the former.

Greg: “I think the most important game in Thunder history will occur tomorrow (Game 4). Things could go either direction radically for the game, the team, players and coach, and if not finite results, the trend lines start moving in that direction. My gut tells me this is like the Sugar Bowl in this sense; the Thunder will either lose ugly and stick a fork in them, they’re done, or they will win CONVINCINGLY.  Even if they do the latter, the heat will turn down.  They have to return to OKC and waylay Memphis at least two times in a row before the pressure will begin to diminish.”

It’s not the most important game in Thunder history. That was Game 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the NBA Finals. Take your pick. However, the ramifications of the game are big. Lose this game, and the Thunder likely loses the series. Lose a first-round series, and everyone takes a long, hard look at everything.

John: “I just cannot understand if the players are going to comment, even at all, I think they should be motivated to beat the living snot out of Memphis and then in the post-game laugh openly at Barkley. The fact they won’t do this even when they win convincingly makes me wonder if the players themselves have not convinced themselves they are just star crossed. Maybe I am a negatively motivated person, but if Barkley said those things about me if I was in KD or RW’s place, especially RW, I would go out and lead the team to a blowout win, do a triple double even it is 10-10-10, and tell Barkley openly to ‘stick it’ and call him a ringless, has been, buffoon.  But, I just don’t see this motivation.”

I think you’re right. I think you’re a negatively-motivated person.

Steve: “I agree somewhat with your assessment of Westbrook’s D or at least inconsistencies. However, and I know the franchise seems to be off limits to criticism, but the most inconsistent defender on the top eight for the Thunder is KD. No mention of his abysmal first half the other night. If it hadn’t been for RW, Thunder would’ve been down 15-18 at half, not 3. Not trying to rip KD, he’s great, but when someone leans hard on him he doesn’t like it.”

No, Durant doesn’t like it. Who does? And Durant isn’t built for defense. He’s playing guys a lot smaller and usually quicker. Defense really shouldn’t be his forte. But defense absolutely should be Westbrook’s forte. He’s built for it.

Davis: “Until last night, I was an avid Brooks’ supporter.  However, it appears he does not have sufficient control over what is going on during the game on the floor.  But this is dangerous.  Is anyone ready to ‘blame’ RW, or even KD for these last two games?  Careful. There is a point where somewhere down the line just how motivated either will be to remain in OKC.  Firing a coach for, what it appears, to be not having sufficient control of what is going on the floor during the game, no matter how it is broached, can be easily interpreted by both as an indirect blaming of their play.  And if you relieve Brooks, especially after a first round exit, what will be the willingness to be the top effort producers for the next coach…or do they just go through the motions? I think it is time for Bennett to have a talk with Presti and let Presti talk to Brooks in private alone.  What we are watching is an important period for this franchise.  Now, someone, probably Presti, even Bennett, to show some leadership.  I would hate to see this situation turn into a ‘cut off a head to pop a pimple’ or ‘kill an ant with an atomic bomb’. This game on Saturday may be the most important in Thunder history, short as it is.”

Some good points. It is a delicate situation. Sure, you can fire Brooks. And maybe Durant and Westbrook respond well to a new regime. But maybe they don’t. And maybe they don’t respond well to the firing. The cold, hard truth of star-powered professional sports – which is what the NBA is, and the NFL is with quarterbacks – is that the players have input and influence. You have to keep them happy, because they can bolt when their contract is up. The Thunder has built a good culture. To upset that culture is dicey.

Kevin: “This Thunder team reminds me of the pre-Rick Carlisle Maverick teams.  They would look really good but were undone by their lack of CONSISTENT commitment to defense.  It was there in spurts but not consistently the San Antonio was doing it at that time.  I do not believe that Brooks is a contributor the way Don Nelson and even Avery Johnson were.  Nelson didn’t coach defense and while Avery was better at defense he just couldn’t coach—no way he should have let the 2006 finals get away from him. Last night, OKC waited until they were down 17 to really commit to defense.  They did not let Gasol touch the ball until late in the shot clock and Thabo seemed to be effective at delaying Memphis in getting into their offense.  Memphis was not in a hurry to get in their offense but they wanted to at least have time to run something.  They were not getting that.  Thunder panicked a little offensively and were rushing shots.  Some of those 2 and 3 second possessions that ended in a three pointer were awful.  The quality of the possession is as valuable as the time it takes to score.  Your readers do not get it, but if Thabo and Perk do not play, the Thunder get rolled.  Unfortunately, due to injury, make-up, fortitude or whatever, those are really the only two guys who give you that defensive commitment consistently.”

I agree, the Thunder defense was inconsistent in Game 3. But it largely was solid. Offense was the problem in Game 3.

Gordon: “Look at the makeup of the Memphis team from the NCAA days. Zach Randolph – Final 4, Michigan State (Tom Izzo); Mike Conley – Finals, Ohio State; Tony Allen – Final 4, Oklahoma State (Eddie Sutton); Tayshaun Prince – NCAA Champ, Rick Pitino/Tubby Smith; Mike Miller – Final 4, Florida (Billy Donovan); Heck Ed Davis won the tournament at NC but he doesn’t contribute and Roy Williams is not a ‘toughness’ coach. OKC has Westbrook, Collison and two more who made the Final Four, but their coaches did not have the toughness reputation that these guys have.  Their style of play has been ingrained into them…  Ain’t an accident.”

Actually, I think it is a coincidence. I know of no study that shows college breeds toughness in the NBA. Or success. Whatever value Kendrick Perkins has in his NBA career comes from toughness. He didn’t go to college. Kevin Garnett is the epitome of toughness. He didn’t go to college. Tony Allen was tough long before he ever met Eddie Sutton.

D.R.: “Watching Game 3, I felt like Chris Paul in that State Farm commercial, as I muttered to myself time and time again, ‘pass the ball.’  How does Ibaka, who shot 60% from the field in Game 3, take only one shot in the 4th quarter?  Also, Sefolosha and Perkins need to shoot more.  I’m not talking 20 shots apiece, but somewhere in the neighborhood of five to eight shots each per game, just enough so that Memphis can’t continually run two, three and sometimes four defenders at Westbrook and/or Durant because they know that no one else on the floor is likely to get a shot.  Also, both Westbrook and Durant are overdribbling thus stagnating the offense and making themselves much easier for Memphis to cover.  Finally, the corner 3 is wide open for the Thunder, Memphis isn’t even covering it because they know if the guy over there is named Westbrook or Durant chances are good he’s not going to even get an attempt at the shot.”

It has reached this point. Fans are calling for Perk to shoot five to eight shots a game. Man, defeats can make some people panic. However, D.R. is mostly correct. The Thunder does need to spread the ball more and does need to share the shots more.

Scott: “I consider myself to be a pretty rational person, but I’m also a fan — which I understand to be short for fanatic.  I realize that calling for a coaching change for the Thunder means a seemingly very good person with a family losing his job.  That all by itself is a pretty big deal.  However, we’re talking professional sports, and every coach at that level takes their job knowing the odds-on chance is they’ll be leaving sooner than they’d like. (But) Brooks might need to go if indeed it appears the team has quit listening to him.  I think this is the case, and I think it’s the case because I have a 20-year-old daughter.  I’m pretty sure she likes her mother and I.  I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t admit to wanting to trade either one of us for any other parents.  She is a great kid attending OU, loves Jesus and has never given us a lick of trouble.  However, just like most 20- to 25-year-olds, in her mind, her mother and I are ‘idiots.’ She’d never admit to that of course.  But she gently argues with us on the dumbest things, like the best route to drive or the right temperature on the thermostat.  She rolls her eyes and the like when we make suggestions about her life goals and future plans.  She’s pretty typical.  I believe the culture she’s living in has done less re-enforcement of values and basic respect than the world tolerated when we were her age.   That’s just the demographics of the world we live in – AND it’s the world young guys like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and with three or four exceptions, the entire roster of the Thunder are immersed in as well. I would propose, that another HUGE reason the Thunder need to go ahead and make a coaching change right now, (unless a miraculous turn around occurs,) is the window of teachability is about to close forever on the young Thunder players.  Durant had Rick Barnes for one year.  Westbrook had one season at UCLA (actually two).  Same story as you go down the roster.  Scott Brooks has been the longest tenured voice in their heads for their entire lives — and if they’ve simply tuned out Dad/Scotty Brooks, the consequences are quite large.  Very bad traits are being deeply ingrained in those players.  If they go another season or two with the only situation they’ve ever known in their professional and young adult lives, a situation where they just inherently don’t listen anymore, can they honestly be expected to grow as men and basketball players in their late 20′s?  I don’t think in today’s world that’s possible.  I am thankful for other people in my daughter’s life at OU and her church in Norman who can effect change on her, even while telling her the same things her mother and I would.  Something about it coming from them seems to click for my daughter.”

Great email. And very apt. Not that I’m saying Brooks needs to go. But I agree that there comes a time when ballplayers quit listening to the same voice, just as people in life quit listening to the same old voice. I have no idea if the Thunder has tuned out Brooks. But that’s exactly Sam Presti’s job. Figure out if his players are still listening to their coach.

Owens: “IF the Thunder coaching job came open, it would be attractive to just about everyone.  Popovich is an interesting idea.  I think there is one better candidate out there, not only from an X’s & O’s perspective, but with regard to the situation of teaching. The man Clay Bennett needs to throw his money at is Mike Krzyzewski.  I do not believe there is much that would pry Coach K from Duke.  He turned down Kobe and the Lakers, reportedly twice.  However, I think the perfect storm is at hand.  He has not only the gravitas to command the Thunder locker room from day one, he has the experience of USA Basketball with not only Durant and Westbrook, but the younger players like Lamb and I believe Perry Jones as well.  His Olympic experience makes him suited like no other college coach today to transition to the pro game. Additionally, I believe as evidenced by the stress-attack event that happened to him this year, coupled with his numerous comments, that not only is he frustrated with the one-and-done aspect of the college game, but there really is no up-side left anymore for him in coaching at Duke.  He’s indicated, I believe, that he’s nearing the end of his coaching career.  He clearly has nothing left to prove at Duke.  A quick closing chapter taking an NBA team to a potential title would be a tremendous ending to a storied career.  The Thunder represent the type of team he could do wonders with.  Tremendous unreached potential.  The acumen that he would bring to the sidelines would be unmatched.  The respect he would command, coupled with the unique understanding of 20-something minds, would be tremendous.  Offer him a three year deal with the third being an option (and no real expectation on him to take it.)  Two seasons, a title or two — perfect scenario for everyone. I think at the end of the day, a good question to ask is, ‘If Scott Brooks had been coaching in Minnesota this season, would his team have won more games than Rick Adelman?’ I don’t think so. Brooks sure appears to be a ‘good guy,’ and I think he was effective when he had bench help like Mo Cheeks and Ron Adams developing the players to a point.  I think his winning percentage has probably benefited a bit from the players he’s been able to coach.  However, I think the main thing for the Thunder, is having someone the players respect and listen to now, who they wouldn’t confuse as their friend or their dad.  I believe they’re at the point where such a change is the only apparent way this team ever realizes their tremendous potential.”

I wouldn’t hire Krzyzewski. The USA Basketball point is solid. But college coaches don’t bring much cachet to the pro game. If you want a college coach, Kevin Ollie is much more likely. I could see the Thunder hiring Ollie. A guy winning on the college level at a big-time program, where he has major advantages over almost every team he plays, is no indication he can win when it’s a level playing field.

Bob: “I tend to agree with Ray (Westbrook) that cattle boss Foreman needs to share fault for a lot of the Thunder losses this season, and especially the last two.  It is the coach’s job, other than marking X’s and O’s, to get a team ready mentally for games, before and at the half.  Our boys have come out on the floor so many times with no enthusiasm, laziness at running back up court, slow returns to the offensive end of the court after inbounding the ball at the other end, and general ‘we’re gonna shoot well enough to win, why do we have to run on defense’ attitudes. And sometimes they do. The coach has to make this change. These young guys should be runnin’ and gunnin’ the whole game, every game, especially with a strong bench of young guys anxious to play. It’s the coach, son!”

Funny how two shaky games, that resulted in overtime defeats to a pitbull of an opponent, can make people forget. The Thunder has improved every season until this one, in both record and dominance, and the record was stymied only in the final week, and the dominance had its moments as it tried to survive injuries. The Thunder organization is in great shape. This Thunder season is in peril, thanks to the Grizzlies. Let’s not lose sight of what’s happening.

Joel: “A quick comment on Brooks.  I certainly don’t think what’s happened so far all falls on him.  Nor is this series over. I still think the Thunder win. But as I’ve said before, I’m not sure he’ll be the person to take the Thunder to the top.  There’s a reason Phil Jackson always took over teams with established superstars and pushed them over the top. That was just something he was good at.  I always wondered why he wouldn’t take a young team and build from the ground up. Either he couldn’t or, at the very least, didn’t want to.  Brooks is obviously good at developing talent but can he take a team of superstars ‘over the line’? If the Thunder fall short of at least the Western Conference Finals, I think there’ll be a lot of people asking that question.”

Ah, yes, the Phil Jackson question. Is Scotty Brooks the Thunder version of Doug Collins? You never know. Changing coaches could pay off with an NBA title. Or it could disrupt the franchise. No one knows for sure. But this much I know. Sam Presti believes in the culture he’s established. And the quick fixes everyone embraces, he rejects.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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