When Scott Brooks was handed his walking papers, I joked that the person most directly affected would be Oklahoman sportswriter Berry Tramel, who would no longer be able to fall back on the tedious literary device of calling the Thunder coach "Foreman Scotty." (I'm sure he'll continue to refer to the team itself as the Boomers, which is an irritation on a different level.) Not that I have any qualms about using similar devices myself: after Prince retired the glyph and reclaimed his name, I started referring to him as "The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince," which is arguably a hell of a lot more tedious than anything Tramel ever said.

I've watched Thunder GM Sam Presti long enough to figure that the man has never made a snap decision in his life: there had to be a moment during the regular season when the subject first entered his mind, and I'm thinking it might have been during a game against the Knicks in late January. The Thunder fell at the Garden, 100-92, in a performance for which no one, in or out of New York, had kind words. An example, from Royce Young at Daily Thunder:

I don't even want to try and have fun with this. I feel like Bane just suplexed me. The Thunder might've even broken me. This is the official low point of the season. This is rock bottom. It's probably only going to get worse on Saturday as they travel to Memphis where there's a strong likelihood they drop back under .500, but if the Thunder end up missing the postseason, this is the night I'm going to remember where it all unraveled.

I just have such a hard time understanding why it's not working. This team is good. Let's recap: Their subtractions off a team that won 59 games last season playing 36 of them without a top five player and went to six games in the Western Conference finals were Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, Hasheem Thabeet and Caron Butler. They haven't been able to play more than 10 games together this season at full strength, which obviously disrupts continuity and chemistry, but still, there's a body of work and a standard already in place that suggests they should be OK.

Fisher, of course, was coaching the Knicks that night, but he didn't pull off anything brilliant; he didn't have to. And Young's postscript was telling:

It's hard to defend Scott Brooks in any way after a loss like this and don't worry, I'm most definitely not going to but let me ask this: What does firing him really accomplish at this present moment? Do you think hiring a new coach tomorrow morning is going to fix what ails the Thunder?

The Thunder did indeed lose to the Grizzlies. But they won two of the next three, and then seven straight. After the Knicks dropped them to 23-23, they went 22-14 for the rest of the season. That's .611 ball. That's .001 better than the season record for the Dallas Mavericks, who got the #7 seed in the West; that's .001 better than the season record for the Chicago Bulls, who got the #3 seed in the East. And there is a nearly infinite supply of people who will tell you that 45-37 would have been good enough for a playoff slot in the East, and not the last one either. (Sixth, one game behind the Wizards.)

But I'm thinking something serious happened that night. Maybe it was seeing Lance Thomas, only recently shipped to New York, wreak havoc on the team that sent him there. Maybe it was the realization that in the three preceding games, they'd lost to two good teams (Atlanta and Cleveland) and just barely beat a terrible one (Minnesota). Or maybe it was the idea that things might not get better next season:

The idea of fairness, or whether Brooks deserved another go at it, just aren't in play if and when a title is the bottom line. That's where we're at. If Presti believed that Brooks' flaws would come back in full force next season when, you know, the Chosen One plays out the last year of his contract, then he was right in pursuing someone he feels will be a better fit.

And if we've learned anything since The Team Formerly Based In Seattle arrived here in 2008, it's Trust Sam Presti. I said so myself in early 2009:

If they ever do a biography of Thunder general manager Sam Presti, the title you're looking for is Inscrutable Man: his moves invite you in fact, dare you to second-guess him, and eventually you have to concede that the kid was right all along.

Scott Brooks, with an admirable 338-207 record as a head coach 39-34 in the playoffs will almost certainly land on his feet. But the next guy, be he Donovan or Ollie or Messina, will have to hang a banner in the Chesapeake Arena.

Then again, there's always Scott Skiles, in which case Tramel can dust off "Foreman Scotty" once more.

The Vent

  25 April 2015

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 Copyright © 2015 by Charles G. Hill