(Today's post marks the inaugural column of Thunder reporter Sarah Rogers, who will hopefully become a regular commentator here at WTLC)
I live in OKC, and after I spoke to Oklahoma City Thunder fans this offseason, many are ready to tar and feather head coach Scott Brooks. OKC fans blame Brooks for the collapse in the playoffs. They are not dedicated fans of his and they are ready to run him out of town.
When Rockets rookie Patrick Beverley collided with the knee of guard Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Thunders' path to the NBA Finals was forever changed. However, should it have been?
Yes, the Thunder was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but with Westbrook out, they had no time to regroup and come up with an alternate game plan. Without a game plan, the Memphis Grizzlies were able to defeat the Thunder 4-1 in the Conference semifinals. Memphis beat OKC in 4 consecutive games, each one coming down to the wire and by only a 2 possession margin of difference. Westbrook's 23 points per game were sorely missed.
Although Brooks is the head coach and was responsible for putting together a winning game plan, he should not bear the brunt of the force. What happened to Westbrook was unfortunate, but things happen, and Westbrook's run of good fortune, never having missed a single game in his NBA career, finally ran out.
Brooks is still under contract as the Thunder's head coach for the 2013-14 season and here are three goals he should try to accomplish this upcoming season in order to rejuvenate his team and embolden the Thunder fan base.
1. Develop the Bench
Good coaches need to prepare everyone to play. With Westbrook injured and unable to play, a team should be able to have someone waiting in the wings in case something like this happens.
Before Westbrook was done for the season, OKC was averaging 105.7 points per game and were 60-22 during the regular season. After Westbrook injured himself, the Thunder was only averaging 95.3 points per game and was 3-6 in the nine playoff games they played.
Their scoring output against the Rockets were as follows: 120, 105, 104, 103, 103, 100. Statistically, the Grizzlies were the best defensive team, so that should be considered. However, OKC's scoring output against the Grizzlies declined in each successive game: 97, 93, 93, 84, 81.
Before Westbrook was hurt for the rest of the playoffs, Serge Ibaka's scoring output was 11, 9, 9, 5, 3 and 3. Afterwards, his scoring output was 7, 5, 5, 4 and 2. Another culprit was Thabo Sefolosha. He was scoring 17, 17, 14, 12, 10 and 8 points against the Rockets and only scored 17, 17, 13, 11 and 5 points against the Grizzlies. Both of these players were expected to help carry the offensive load, yet they struggled.
2. Star Players Should Play Less Minutes
During the 2012-13 season, Durant started 81 games and averaged 38.5 minutes per game. Westbrook started all 82 games and averaged 34.9 minutes per game. That is a lot of time and minutes for these young players to have, but more importantly, it's time the other players are not getting.
The best thing for Brooks to do is have other players step up. Yes, Westbrook and Durant are the best players on the team, but in order to keep your players healthy for years to come; Brooks should minimize their wear and tear.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich understands that in order to have a great team, he has to rely on the bench in crucial moments. Brooks relies too much on Durant and Westbrook during games and it is in his best interest to develop Jackson and in place of Durant, the other SF's Perry Jones III and Ronnie Brewer need to be developed as well.
3. Make Quicker Adjustments Mid-game
One last thing Brooks should focus on before next season is learn to make adjustments mid-game in a quicker manner.
During the Grizzlies semifinals series, the offense was almost exclusively run through Durant. He would have the basketball, but he'd be double-teamed and have nowhere to pass the ball. Instead of Durant passing the ball off, he would try to force the shot and he'd miss (Durant shot only 42.1% for the series). Brooks should have better prepared his team for how to deal with these double-teams with proper spacing and better personnel choices.
Brooks needs to realize that yes, Durant is the leader of the team, but when your best player is unable to make shots or even get a clean look at the rim, another plan should be drawn up at the very least to give Durant a break and the defense a different look.
Brooks has many challenges in front of him, but starting on these 3 issues would make for a great start to return to the Finals in 2014.
Sarah Rogers is a reporter from Tulsa and has covered the Thunder for the past year. She has been published in the Tulsa World, Dallas Morning News and on Yahoo! Sports. You can follow her on Twitter @Miss__ESPN