Sam Presti kept a list. A lot of guys do that. Keep a list of potential hires, in case someone ever puts you in charge. Most guys don’t ever get to use the list. But at the age of 30, Presti was handed an NBA franchise. Named general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics in June 2007, Presti needed a coach.
He pulled out the list. There was Scott Brooks’ name. People from around the league kept having good things to say about Brooks. Players who played with Brooks. Players who played for Brooks. Coaches who coached with and against him. They talked about his character. His consistency. His decency. His genuiness. Presti didn’t hire him. Brooks’ experience was limited. Three years as a Nuggets assistant. One season as a Kings assistant. Two years coaching minor-league ball. Made sense. Young team didn’t need a novice coach. Presti hired a veteran, P.J. Carlesimo. When Carlesimo put together his staff, Presti recommended taking a look at Brooks. To Carlesimo’s credit, he hired Brooks as an assistant coach. Not easy to hire a guy who just interviewed for the job you got. Tip your cap, Oklahoma City, to Carlesimo. Sunday, Brooks will coach the Thunder against the Lakers in a Western Conference playoff opener. OKC hits the big stage of LA’s Staples Center, and Brooks is no small reason why. He took over for Carlesimo after the disastrous start in Oklahoma City 18 months ago, and now the overwhelming favorite for NBA coach of the year is the guy who seems more like your next door neighbor than a guy who tries to get NBA players to share the ball and NBA refs to balance the whistles. "I’ve now seen him in adversity and now working with success,” Presti said of Brooks. "One of the best compliments I can pay him is he’s unaffected.” Never once have I heard Presti talk basketball strategy, when it comes to coaching or most anything else. He talks about process and culture, cooperation and commitment. And Presti has a coach who understands those things. "Scott’s an investor,” Presti said, using the word as high praise. "He believes in our vision. He brings that belief to the sidelines.” Brooks was interim coach the final 4 1/2 months of last season. His record wasn’t great (22-47, though it certainly trumped Carlesimo’s 1-12). But Presti saw enough to give Brooks the permanent reins of a still-ridiculously-young team. "When you go through adversity, you learn a lot,” Presti said. "As difficult as that period was last season, I was able to walk away knowing he would be consistent and persistent in what the vision was for the organization.” It all jibed with what Presti had learned originally about Brooks.