The Oklahoma City Thunder fired Scott Brooks after seven highly successful seasons Wednesday. Brooks, 49, led the Thunder to one NBA Finals, three Western Conference Finals in the last four years, and his .620 winning percentage is the highest mark all-time among coaches who haven’t won an NBA title (minimum 500 games coached).
And yet, Brooks’ dismissal was hardly surprising.
“I don’t think it was a surprise just purely because it had been six days since the news came out that the Thunder were going to evaluate Scotty Brooks before committing to bring him back for the last guaranteed year of his contract,” CBS Sports NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “And once you had six days of radio silence, you knew something was up. You also knew that (general manager) Sam Presti was addressing the media – or scheduled to on Friday – so you know that by Friday they were either going to decide they were staying with Scotty Brooks, or they were going to have a new coach already, or they were going to make a move before then. And it was C, they made a move before then.”
But what do we make of Presti’s decision? The Thunder missed the playoffs this year, yes, but Kevin Durant missed 55 games. It’s difficult to win without the reigning MVP, especially in a stacked Western Conference.
“I think everybody believes, at this point, that No. 1, Sam Presti values certainty above all else,” Berger said. “It’s why he traded James Harden, it’s why he traded Reggie Jackson, and it’s why he didn’t want to go into a season with a lame-duck head coach. And to add to that, guess what you don’t do if you value certainty? You don’t fire a wildly successful head coach – who’s been with you for seven years and taken you to three of the last four Western Conference Finals before missing the playoffs this year – without having some idea who the coach is next.”
But Berger thinks Presti does know. In fact, Florida’s Billy Donovan and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie are rumored to be serious candidates for the position.
“Presti and Billy Donovan have developed a friendship over the years,” Berger explained. “Presti even hired a bunch of Donovan’s assistants in the last 12 months – one to coach a D-League team and the other to work on analytics in the basketball department. So there’s a relationship there. There’s continuity there. I think all signs point to the pursuit of Billy Donovan being very strong, and I’m told that after the ill-fated flirtation with Orlando a few years ago, Billy is ready to make the move to the NBA, and this would be a perfect spot for him.”
Ollie, meanwhile, released a statement Wednesday saying he is “proud and honored” to be the head coach at UConn and has “no plans to pursue other opportunities.”
Translation? Ollie is open to pursuing other opportunities.
“I think when you’re a college coach . . . for most of these guys who are successful, it’s a lifetime contract,” Berger said. “So I think they are all sensitive to not wanting to stir the pot unnecessarily and not wanting to freak out potential recruits unnecessarily. But remember, when Kevin Ollie made that statement – first of all, it was very carefully worded. ‘I don’t have any plans to pursue any other opportunities.’ Everybody knows that it works the opposite way: The NBA team will be the one that will pursue him. And also, the statement was made before Scott Brooks was fired. So it’s kind of coaching credo: You never want to lobby or campaign for a job that’s occupied. Now that the job is unoccupied, I think things have changed.”