So much focus is placed on a coach's X's-and-O's strategy that his impact on player development often is overshadowed.
Two months before Thunder general manager Sam Presti begins negotiations on contract extensions with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, Presti showed the organization's commitment to keeping the core together Tuesday by picking up the third-year option on coach Scott Brooks.
Earning more than $1.5 million a season, Brooks is signed through the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
“We expect our players to come back better,” Presti said. “Scott will do an excellent job overseeing that. He's a hands-on guy when it comes to development. That's one of his greatest strengths.”
Like last summer, Brooks will spend part of the next four months flying around the country to meet with Thunder players. On Saturday, he stressed that the 2010-11 season already is under way.
“There was a tremendous amount of growth this past year based on the guys' commitment to get better,” Brooks said. “Like I told them (Friday) night and the last day last season, this is the start of a new season. It's time to move forward. It's time to get better going into next year.
“We can't just hang around and expect to get better. We have to put the time and work and energy into getting better just like last summer. It was a big summer for us. We'll spend a lot of time (this summer) to improve in many areas.”
Throughout the summer, players occasionally stop in Oklahoma City. Sometimes they organize a summer reunion, hooking up with Durant and Green in Washington or flying to California to hang out with Russell Westbrook.
“One thing I believe in is working together,” Brooks said. “I don't have all the answers, nor do they. We need to find the answers together. They understand it's important to get better this time of year and not just say, ‘See you back here in October. Go home. Have a good time.' That's how we improved this past season.”
This past season, the Thunder won 50 games, a 27-game improvement, the eighth best turnaround in NBA history. Oklahoma City pushed the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games before being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
But Brooks and Presti both stressed this past week that having a young team with a potentially bright future doesn't guarantee OKC will win 50 games every season.
“Our organization realizes we have a lot of work to do,” Presti said. “We're not entitled to anything. We have to be consistent with our principles. We can't look too far ahead. That's one area Scott has done a fabulous job.”
Picking up Brooks' third-year option is a message to players to stick with the plan.
“The biggest reason for our early success this season is we had continuity,” said forward Nick Collison. “We had the same coach and a lot of the same personnel. We had the system in place for half a year with a little success. Coming into camp it was so much easier to just take off on the fly.”
The runaway winner of the Red Auerbach Trophy, given to the league's top coach, Brooks served as interim coach for most of the 2008-09 season before Presti signed Brooks to a two-year deal with an option before last year's regular-season finale.
“I'm very excited to have the opportunity to continue to work with the Thunder organization and this great group of players,” Brooks said.