Who is the one guy on a team, when the season is going good, doesn't get talked about much but when a team is doing bad, everyone wants off the team? The answer is none other than the coach. I’ve always believed that coaches do not get enough credit for what they do, so I am taking the time out to dedicate this article to a guy I have a lot of respect for, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Originally from Lathrop, California, Brooks was the youngest of seven children and was raised by his mother Lee Brooks. His father left when he was just a baby so his mother raised his siblings and him as a single mom. He played ten seasons in the NBA from 1988-1998. During that time he played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers. He played mostly off the bench as a point guard and won a ring with Houston in 1994. Brooks worked as an assistant coach in Sacramento and Denver. He then joined the Seattle Sonics team in 2007. After being relocated to Oklahoma City, Brooks became the interim head coach for the Thunder after head coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired after a 1-12 start. A year later after a 27-win improvement (tied for eighth largest in NBA history) he was named the 2009-2010 Coach of the Year when the Thunder finished eighth in the western conference and made their first playoff appearance since the relocation. The following season he led OKC to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks. In this last season he was the All-Star Game head coach for the first time and led his team to their first NBA Finals. In only four years he has turned a losing team into one of the elite teams in the NBA.
Besides the fact he knows how to win, one thing I have always liked about Scott Brooks is the way he encourages his players and never gives up on them. Just one example came in game one of 2012 playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks when the NBA’s scoring champion Kevin Durant had been struggling with his shot all night. At one point the cameras showed Brooks talking to Durant on the sidelines telling him to keep taking his shots and keep believing in them. Kevin Durant did just that and as a result made the shot that counted the most in the final seconds to give the Thunder the lead and the win. Even if one of his stars is having an off night, in close important games you will always see them on the floor because he never loses confidence in them. No matter how far behind the Thunder may be in a game, Brooks is always motivating his players and pushing them to keep fighting. He’s always telling them how they can get back in the game and never lets them think they are out of it. You can see that he believes in his players. He’s also becoming a master of making adjustments. It was Brooks adjustments in the San Antonio series that turned things around after the 0-2 start and won them four straight games. Although he struggled in the Finals and some critics have questioned some of the decisions he made, we have to keep in mind he is still a young coach at only 46 years old. I think the Finals loss will ultimately prove to be a good learning experience for him just as it was for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a year ago.
In addition, Brooks also trusts his players and every decision he makes, whether fans like it or not, is for the betterment of the team. For example in game six of the Western Conference finals, Kevin Durant approached Brooks and asked to play all 48 minutes. Trusting his star and having that confidence in him, Brooks obliged. As a result, they won that game and secured a trip to the NBA Finals. In addition, during the Finals in game two Brooks left Durant in the game after picking up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter. He trusted his star to play smart and did what he thought would give his team the best chance at winning (though that was a game they ultimately lost, he still made the right decision). His team appreciates him and you can tell by watching how they interact he has a great relationship with his players. Kevin Durant was recently quoted saying “I love him like family. He’s pushing me every single day. He demands a lot out of me. And when I’m messing up, he’s going to tell me. That’s what I need.” This team seems to be all about family and Coach Brooks is a big part of that.
Another reason I have so much respect for Brooks is because he sticks up for his players and defends them. Despite all the scrutiny that Russell Westbrook has received this year, Brooks has always stood up for his point guard. When questioned about whether Westbrook shoots too much Brooks was quoted saying, “We need Russell to score. I know some of you don't like that, but Russell is a very, very gifted, talented player, and we would not be in this position without Russell.” He stands by his players through all adversity. He’s done a great job with this young team keeping them grounded and keeping them focused. The Thunder are an energetic young team that play with a lot of emotion and I’m sure keeping them on track during practice at times can not be the easiest task in the world. They are also an extremely resilient team with maturity and mental toughness that goes far beyond their years and coach Brooks is a big reason why. He’s done a great job of managing this team and has received less credit than he deserves.
So here I am giving credit where credit is due and after what appears to be quite a bit of negotiation, Brooks has now signed a four-year contract extension reportedly worth more than four million annually. Despite any criticisms that have been made about Scott Brooks, I believe he has what it takes to be a championship coach and lead his team to multiple finals. Thunder GM Sam Presti seems to feel the same way I do. Presti was recently quoted saying the following about Brooks; “I think his contributions are enormous. We wouldn’t be in this situation, where we feel really good about our future, without him, he’s got a great understanding of the organization and a big part of that is because he’s helped construct it.” People seem to forget sometimes what he’s done for this team in just four years. Like Presti said, Brooks has helped construct this Thunder team but the construction is not done yet, not until OKC has brought home some hardware that the city has never seen before. Until then, for at least the next four years, Scott Brooks is right where he belongs in OKC.