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Who will replace Scott Brooks as Thunder head coach, and when?

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Billy Donovan, Kevin Ollie, and Rex Kalamian look to be top candidates. Details within!

Can one of these two men be the key to a Thunder Championship?
Can one of these two men be the key to a Thunder Championship?
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder have endured one of the worst rashes of injuries ever seen in the history of the NBA. Because of this, it appears the job of head coach Scott Brooks is safe until the end of this season. But before we draw any conclusions about how secure Brooks' job might be, lets take a look at the numbers...

The numbers for Scott Brooks

  • Brooks is the second longest tenured coach in the NBA, tied with Erik Spoelstra of the Heat and Rick Carlisle of the Mavericks at seven seasons.
  • Brooks' regular season winning percentage is 62.4%. Brooks ranks 20th among all NBA coaches historically, and 6th among active coaches.
  • Without the first season of losing, Brooks' winning percentage shoots up to 66.9%. That would rank 7th among all NBA coaches historically, and third among active coaches. (Kerr and Popovich beat him out.)
  • Brooks' playoff winning percentage is 53.4%. That ranks 30th among coaches historically, and 6th among active coaches.
  • Brooks has led this team to one Western Conference Championship in 2012, and four straight Northwest Division Championships from 2011-2014.
  • Brooks' team has not lost in the first round for the past four seasons.
  • I can't remember a single ill word spoken of Brooks by any Thunder player at any time. I have blogged about the Thunder for the duration of Brooks' tenure. (If you can find otherwise, please prove me wrong!)
  • Brooks was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2009-2010.

The numbers against Scott Brooks

  • Brooks' team has included an All-NBA First Team player from 2010-2014 (KD).
  • Brooks' team has included an All-NBA Second Team player from 2011-2013 (Russ).
  • Brooks' team has included an All-Defensive First Team player from 2012-2014 (Ibaka).
  • ESPNs 2015 NBA Coach Rankings polled a panel of over 210 NBA experts. Brooks was ranked 20th. The only other coach of a playoff team to rank lower was Randy Wittman of the Wizards, at 26th.
  • Brooks has disgruntled two starter-quality guards by forcing them to take a role on the bench (Harden, Reggie Jackson).

The Thunder have seen an unprecedented amount of success under Scott Brooks, but they also have had an unprecedented level of talent. Until Brooks starts winning championships or coaches somewhere else, he will never be able to shake the label of a stubborn underachiever.

Nevertheless, there have been absolutely no overtures from the Thunder indicating that Brooks might be on the hot seat. Each consecutive season of Brooks career has seen a new reason come to light for giving him another chance.

  • 08-09: Honeymoon season for Brooks.
  • 09-10: Unprecedented turnaround.
  • 10-11: We get two playoff series further than last year.
  • 11-12: We get one playoff series further than last year.
  • 12-13: Westbrook goes down in the first round, and the Thunder have a very weak bench.
  • 13-14: Ibaka misses first two games of conference finals, Westbrook gone a chunk of the year, Spurs are good.
  • 14-15: KD misses the majority of the season, and it's not even over yet....

As it stands, it would appear that Brooks is safe for the foreseeable future. Barring a complete disaster, it would probably take a disappointing finish at the end of next year to make the Thunder give Coach Brooks the axe. Even then, a re-signed and supportive KD could keep Coach Brooks in his chair for years to come.

So let's suppose, just for a moment, that the Thunder were looking to replace Scott Brooks at the end of next year, or whenever. There are three very intriguing options presenting themselves right now....

Option 1: Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan is currently the head coach at Florida. The Gators have amassed a 71.4 winning percentage and won two national championships under his 19 year reign. Despite this, the Gators amassed a losing record this season, and that has spurred talk of Donovan potentially leaving. Here's the relevant information from a recent Alligator Army article by Andy Hutchins:

"It's been no secret, especially in the last year, that the Oklahoma City Thunder have been intrigued by and admirers of Donovan, and there would seem to be no better fit for Donovan in the NBA than a team that runs itself like a college program for adult players, or one that snagged two Donovan assistants last year. But Oklahoma City is a long way from the life Donovan has built in Gainesville, one that now includes close proximity to his beloved father, and the St. Francis Catholic High School that Donovan helped bring into existence — a school he will might have a child at for four more years, given that youngest daughter Connor will be a high school freshman next fall."

Option 2: Kevin Ollie

Back during last year's All-Star Break, Kevin Durant spoke about the impact that Kevin Ollie has had on the Thunder. Here's what KD said, courtesy of a Spike Eskin CBS Philly Article.

"Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us," Durant told ESPN’s Bill Simmons on the B.S. Report during All-Star weekend. Ollie only spent 25 games with the Thunder (after a short run some years earlier with the Sonics), playing a total of 263 minutes and scoring 44 points. Whatever it was, Ollie made an impression on Durant and the rest of the team. "He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City."

"[Ollie’s] mindset, his professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, we all wanted to be like that, and it rubbed off on Russell [Westbrook], myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And you know, everybody that comes through now, there’s a standard you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And that started with Kevin Ollie."

These words were coming in the midst of UConn's historic run to the title last season. This season, the Huskies have been much more disappointing, losing in the second round of the NIT. It would appear that Ollie's job is safe for now though, and he doesn't speak like a man who's searching for an NBA job. From a Dom Amore article in the Hartford Courant:

"Fellas, we lost four games [in the last] 10 seconds," Ollie said Wednesday night after the 68-61 loss to Arizona State in the first round of the NIT. "It's not like we're in a bad pit. Ten seconds, if that's on the other end, we're in the NCAA Tournament. I'm just being real with you. There were a lot of games we lost right at the end. I'm not crying over spilled milk, it is what it is, but that's the fine line. Those are the inches you've got to fight for as a coaching staff, as players, as a program. It's right there, a fine line from being in the NCAA Tournament to not being in the NCAA Tournament. And it's a great life lesson that I can teach the kids, too. You've got to value every game, every possession, that's what I'm going to teach them and keep teaching them."

Nevertheless, UConn is a very high end college basketball program, boasting four championships in the past 16 years. If Ollie can't make a deep tournament run next year, it's entirely foreseeable that UConn might want to let him go. In any case, Ollie remains near the top of the rumor mill for potential coaches to replace Scott Brooks.

Option 3: Rex Kalamian

The one angle that everyone seems to forget when approaching this is: Where has Sam Presti looked for coaches historically? The only two hires he's made have been P.J. Carlesimo and Scott Brooks. Carlesimo was an assistant in San Antonio, and Presti knew Carlesimo from that time. Brooks had been a lead assistant with the Sonics/Thunder for just over a season when he took over the job. On both occasions, Presti went with what he knew over trying to get some sort of external big name.

Here's who has served as Scott Brooks' lead assistant over the years. This information is a bit harder to get, so please treat this as a very educated guess instead of cold hard fact:

  • Ron Adams: 2008-2010
  • Maurice Cheeks: 2010-2013
  • Rex Kalamian: 2013-Present

The first two coaches, Ron Adams and Maurice Cheeks, are unlikely options. Adams is currently an assistant with Golden State. Though Adams is regarded as a defensive mastermind behind more than one successful team, he's never been talked about as a serious candidate for a head coaching position. Adams is also likely making a lot of money in Golden State, from what I've heard about Kerr's assistant coach hiring process.

Cheeks actually left the Thunder to become head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and took other long time assistant Maz Trakh with him. Cheeks' job didn't last long though, as he was fired after a disappointing 21-29 start. A quick google search doesn't reveal what Cheeks or Trakh are currently doing, but it's doubtful that Presti would go out on a limb to seek them out.

Thus, the obvious option becomes Rex Kalamian. Kalamian has only been the lead assistant for two seasons, but he has been on Brooks' staff since 2009. Here's Kalamian's job description, via the Thunder's official site:

"As an assistant with the Thunder, Kalamian is chiefly responsible for game preparation and player development. During his time in Oklahoma City, much of Kalamian’s focus has been on the Thunder’s offensive efforts. During the 2012-13 season, the Thunder finished the year as the third highest scoring team in the NBA (averaged 105.7 points per game)."

The only other assistant whom has been on Brooks' staff for more than two years is Mark Bryant. He has been on the staff since Presti's first year in Seattle (07-08). Bryant primarily works with big men, and may be seen as too much of a specialist at this point.

Final Thoughts

There's no telling what will happen over the next year, and it would appear that Brooks' job is safe for at least that long. But if Brooks is on the brink of being fired at any point, these are the names you'll likely seen tossed around as potential replacements. Of course, the situations of all of these candidates could change too, so there's no telling how receptive they might be to an offer at any given time.

Still, one question remains. What do you think? Drop a vote in the poll below, and let your voice be heard!