Risky moves are paying off for Scott Brooks, Thunder

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 20, 2011

When the Oklahoma City Thunder chose him, he was barely a blip on anyone's radar.

The best thing on his resume was backup point guard duty, but yet this is the guy management had entrusted with the keys to the franchise. Other teams passed on his services, not sure if he had what it took to lead. And when the Thunder pulled the trigger, fans doubted the decisions, certain a sexier candidate could have been had. The shaky start to his career — characterized by maddening decisions and mounting defeats — didn't do anything to calm concerns.

Few figured he'd have a chance of ending up here.

Sound familiar?

Yes, Scott Brooks has beaten the odds.

The evolution of the third-year Thunder coach, who originally took the job in 2008 toting an interim tag, is now on full display. Quietly, Brooks is coming of age in these playoffs.

While the sports world runs roughshod over Russell Westbrook, and Brooks' decision to sit the Thunder's similarly critiqued starting point guard for the entire fourth quarter in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, it's missing the larger story line.

Brooks is becoming one fine basketball coach.

The magnified matter of Westbrook's “benching” against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday marked the latest and greatest sign that Brooks is blossoming before our eyes. In the biggest game in the Thunder's brief history, Brooks showed he's unafraid to be bold and bail on the status quo.

“He's grown a lot,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “He's learning along the way with us.”

After taking one on the chin in his first postseason chess match against Phil Jackson last season, Brooks has bounced back better in 2011. He got the best of former boss George Karl in the opening round and, after a few early lumps, eventually found a way to outfox Memphis' Lionel Hollins in the semifinals. Now, Brooks is standing toe-to-toe with Mavs coach and former roommate Rick Carlisle, considered by many to be the best coach remaining in this postseason.

“I think he's getting more confident in what he's doing,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison.

In less than three full seasons, Brooks has become a Coach of the Year winner while guiding his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons. There is an unmistakable parallel between Brooks' rapid climb and that of his team of still 20-somethings. It's a paring that makes the Thunder's “Rise Together” slogan all the more apt.

Brooks had only served as an assistant in Denver and Sacramento before joining the Thunder's franchise as an assistant coach under P.J. Carlesimo, the man he eventually replaced. Sacramento passed on Brooks for its head coaching job in favor of Reggie Theus, who lasted just one season after a 38-44 year.

With the Thunder, though, Brooks has grown from the ground up much like his players. But even as he sits three wins shy of a trip to the NBA Finals, he seems too locked in to appreciate his success. And he certainly isn't about to bask in it.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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