Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks was featured in an episode of The Vertical podcast with Chris Mannix yesterday. The interview was effectively the first time Brooks has spoken publicly about his time with the Thunder after being fired. Check out the whole thing for some great bits on Brooks' history, and specifically his relationship with Charles Barkley.
Anyway, here's the juiciest Thunder-related tidbits:
Mannix: You had your first experience being fired as a coach. Was it as bad as you anticipated? What was the aftermath like for you when Oklahoma City let you go?
Brooks: It was disappointing. I thought my staff did a great job. Last season we still ended up top 5 in scoring. The last five years that I was there, we were always between 3[rd] and 5[th] in scoring. Defensive field goal percentage was always between 2[nd] and 5[th] in the last 5 years. I think last year we dipped down to 8th in [defensive] field goal percentage.
We had a lot of injuries. But I'm proud of our guys. They never used it as an excuse. We had a tough break three years ago with Russell. Going down in the first game of the playoffs. The next year we had another tough break with Serge going down against the Spurs in the conference finals. But, I can't complain. We had a great run. Sam [Presti] and the ownership gave me a great opportunity. I'm disappointed that I did not see it fulfilled. What our goal was, to win a championship. I really believe in my heart that going into last season we were going to win a championship. I thought we had the right amount of experience.
And also the right amount of tough luck a couple years prior to that. And I think you kinda need that to have an edge. We went to the finals as the youngest team in the NBA. And we didn't have a chance to bring it back, that same group. With the Harden trade. But we still rallied around great leadership with Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Perk. They all did a great job of putting us back to where we need to be. To be a competitive team.
That sums up Coach Brooks' tenure in a nutshell. The stats Brooks cites are impressive, but the Thunder have been just as impressive in both of those categories this year. As of today, the Thunder are 1st in points per game, and 6th in opponent field goal percentage. Then again, I don't think Brooks was really trying to compare his teams and this year's team directly.
I also like the Perk and Collison endorsement though, letting us know who the real leaders behind the scenes were. Neither of those guys put up flashy numbers, but they are both very important to the Thunder as we know them today. Also, losing Perk was a pretty big deal on an emotional level.
Brooks: The thing I love about James is, he loved his role. He loved coming off the bench. He loved working with that second unit. Him and Nick had a great bond on the court and off the court. And when James made the USA Basketball, he knew that he belonged. That following year, before he was traded, he was one of our best players. And he did not want to start. We tried to start him a few times. Because Thabo Sefolosha got hurt, I think I started him like 2 games. And he came to me after each game like 'Coach coach coach. Please please. Get me back to my role. I like the second unit.' And that says a lot about him. He was a great player. He is a great player.
The first thought that crosses my mind is: Did James Harden not like playing with Westbrook and Durant? Because that's what it sounds like to me. When Harden was on the court with the bench, he got to be the superstar. The players Harden was with on the bench didn't demand the ball at all. Guys like Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Derek Fisher, Daequan Cook, and Nazr Mohammed. So Harden was basically free do what he wanted amongst the less talented players of the NBA.
Of course, I'm not saying anything negative about James Harden's ability in the clutch, nor his ability to play with Westbrook and Durant when it mattered. All of those things are well documented and proven.
Strangely, I see kind of a parallel with Dion Waiters these past couple of weeks. With Andre Roberson out, Waiters has stepped into a starting role. As a result, Waiters is with Westbrook and Durant a lot more, and has less to do on the court. This has been positive for Dion's stats, but it's inarguable that he gets far fewer possessions than he used to. The same thing might have happened to Harden if he was a starter, and that may ultimately be the reason that he bailed.
Mannix: Did James have a different temperament than say, a Reggie Jackson? Because part of the reason Reggie Jackson is part of the Pistons right now is, he wanted to be a starter. And he's said this publicly. He wanted to have a bigger role. Is there a difference in the temperament of the players?"
Brooks: Yes, absolutely. You have to have guys that want to be with the program. No matter how good of an organization you are, and no matter how good of a coaching staff you have, and teammates you have. The guys have to want to be there. Reggie was a great player. For whatever reason, Sam could not get that done. Reggie wanted to be a starting point guard. But he never was going to start as a point guard. Russell Westbrook is the most complete basketball player in the NBA. Hands down. You're not going to be able to take his spot. And I told Reggie that, many times. But he was going to have an impact when they play.
We've heard this song and dance before. The new information here is that Jackson wanting to start was apparently an issue from the outset. If Brooks is having to tell Reggie "many times" that he can't start, it obviously came up on multiple occasions over a long period of time. And if Jackson's only goal was to start, then he may have gotten in the way of team cohesiveness and success. It's all speculation on my part, but if that were true, I'm glad the Thunder got rid of Reggie when they did. In any case, Kanter provides the Thunder with a lot of things that Reggie just couldn't provide. Much as the Thunder couldn't give Reggie what he wanted.
"I do have a great relationship [with Kevin Durant]. I still communicate with him through text. It's the craziest thing. You talk to these players and it's always through a text. I don't even know if Kevin would know what a phone call ring would sound like. I can text and he'd text me right away. We've had some great communications the last month or so."
"Kevin Durant, MVP as a 24-year-old. I think Kevin right now, and I thought he was last year before he got hurt, he was going to be the best two-way player in the game. I think this year he is the best two-way player in the game. Kinda like a forgotten MVP candidate."
Cool to know that KD still keeps in contact with his former coach. Brooks is watching from afar, and could offer different levels of support on a basketball or emotional level. And I like Brooks supporting KD as the best player in the game, even after their professional relationship has ended.
I was told I was fired. Sam told me, 'We don't want you back.' I got up, I shook his hand and said thank you. And I walked out. There was no reason to try to change their mind.
Any thoughts on what Scott Brooks had to say? Drop a comment and let your voice be heard!