The most predictable way to win a coach-of-the-year award is to overachieve, to make an underwhelming team become overwhelming in its own way. This is why the Thunder’s Scott Brooks was named NBA coach of the year on Wednesday, and it’s also why he clearly deserved the award.
Composure is a terrific quality in coaching, and Brooks repeatedly has shown he has it. If a coach doesn’t freak out, chances are neither will his team. There is an undeniable sense of calm with Brooks, a patience that shows in the Thunder’s steady improvement.
I’ve often wondered what Brooks is like inside the locker room or during closed practice sessions. Playoff television coverage miked Brooks inside the locker room and during timeouts in Games 1 and 2 against the Lakers, and evidently he’s the same person reporters see during pre-game and post-game chats. His demeanor is the same in any circumstance, whether he’s handing out praise or demanding better screens and tougher defense against the Lakers. I have yet to see any proof of Brooks losing his composure, which is no easy feat when dealing with such a young team.
Just 17 months ago, Brooks was an assistant under coach P.J. Carlesimo who inherited a 1-12 team the night of Nov. 21 after a 105-80 loss to New Orleans inside the Ford Center. Brooks went 22-47 last year and 50-32 this year.
No team threatened the Thunder’s 27-win improvement from a year ago. Brooks had to be the choice as top coach. The closest was 40-42 Memphis with a 16-game improvement under coach Lionel Hollins. Milwaukee went 46-36 and had a 12-game improvement under coach Scott Skiles.
Brooks won half-a-hundred games while leading a team to the playoffs at least one season ahead of schedule, perhaps two or three.
Brooks is winless in the playoffs so far, which is precisely where most folks figured the Thunder would to this point against the world champion Lakers. Brooks so far has stuck with many of the same substitution patterns and player combinations he used in the regular season. Some believe coaches must change their approach in the postseason. Brooks apparently feels it’s best to stick with what got you to the playoffs, and no one knows what works best for the Thunder more than Brooks.
Those who have questioned Brooks’ method wouldn’t have nearly as much ammunition if his players had performed to their capabilities the first two games. Imagine if Jeff Green wasn’t a combined 6 for 23, Thabo Sefolosha wasn’t 2 for 11 and James Harden wasn’t 0 for 5 and playing like a rookie.
Kevin Durant, who is a combined 19 for 50 from the field with 12 turnovers, got far better looks in Game 1 than in Game 2. He seemed to be in a much better space, literally and figuratively, and that’s because of adjustments from Brooks.
What the Thunder must do is shoot better and cherish each possession much more than it did in Games 1 and 2. Brooks no doubt has preached this to his team, and you can bet he was calm when he did it.
Here is how the Thunder went from being in Seattle to being in the playoffs and playing the world champion Los Angeles Lakers:
July 18, 2006: An eight-member group of Oklahoma City-based businessmen led by Clay Bennett join to form the Professional Basketball Club, LLC and agree to purchase the Seattle SuperSonics and WNBA’s Storm for $350 million.
Sept. 21, 2007: Sonics owners file an arbitration demand seeking a ruling by arbitrators that would prevent Seattle officials from forcing the Sonics to remain at KeyArena through 2010. A judge later denies the request.
Nov. 2, 2007: Sonics owners file a relocation application with the NBA seeking to move the franchise to Oklahoma City.
Feb. 16, 2008: NBA Commissioner David Stern says the Sonics leaving Seattle is “an inevitability.” Stern also says Seattle turned down an offer of about $30 million to buy the team out of its lease with KeyArena.
March 4, 2008: Oklahoma City voters approve a 1-cent sales tax to pay for about $121 million in improvements to the Ford Center and an NBA practice facility.
March 14, 2008: Oklahoma City officials sign a letter of intent with the Sonics ownership group, outlining preliminary terms of a 15-year lease agreement for the use of the Ford Center.
June 26, 2008: Selects guard Russell Westbrook (fourth overall) and center Serge Ibaka (24th overall) in the NBA Draft; acquires forward D.J. White (29th overall) in exchange for Walter Sharpe (32nd overall) and Trent Plaisted (46th overall).
July 2, 2008: Bennett announces the franchise will relocate to Oklahoma City.
Aug. 11, 2008: Acquires guard Kyle Weaver from Charlotte in exchange for a future second-round pick.
Aug. 29, 2008: Three moving vans arrive in Oklahoma City from Seattle.
Sept. 3, 2008: Formal announcement at Leadership Square that the Seattle SuperSonics will be called the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oct. 29, 2008: Thunder plays its first-ever regular-season game and loses 98-87 to Milwaukee at home.
Nov. 21, 2008: After opening the season with a 1-12 record, Thunder replaces coach P.J. Carlesimo with assistant Scott Brooks on an interim basis.
Dec. 30, 2008: Signs free agent center Nenad Krstic.
Dec. 31, 2008: Off to a 3-29 start and riding a five-game losing streak, the Thunder beats Golden State 107-100 inside the Ford Center and goes 20-30 the remainder of the season. Earlier that same day, Thunder announces the hiring of defensive guru Ron Adams as an assistant coach.
Feb. 13, 2009: Durant scores a record 46 points for the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge game during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. Durant made 17 of 25 shots, had six dunks and four 3-pointers.
Feb. 14, 2009: Durant wins the inaugural H-O-R-S-E competition as part of All-Star Weekend.
Feb. 17, 2009: Thunder trades forwards Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith and the draft rights to center DeVon Hardin to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for center Tyson Chandler. Later that same night, the Thunder’s new mascot, Rumble, makes his debut inside the Ford Center during a game against the Hornets.
Feb. 18, 2009: Chandler trade is rescinded when Thunder officials are not satisfied with the results of a physical examination of Chandler’s toe.
Feb. 19, 2009: Acquires guard Thabo Sefolosha and cash considerations in exchange for the least favorable of Thunder’s 2009 first-round draft picks.
March 2, 2009: Entering the game with a 14-45 record, the Thunder stuns the Dallas Mavericks 96-87 inside the Ford Center without Durant (injured ankle) and Jeff Green (injured lower back). It comes in the middle of a three-game winning streak, the Thunder’s longest of the season.
April 15, 2009: Brooks agrees to a multi-year contract and formally becomes head coach.
June 25, 2009: In the 2009 NBA Draft, Thunder selects guard James Harden (third overall), also acquires center Byron Mullens (24th overall) in exchange for guard Rodrique Beaubois (25th overall) and a 2010 second-round pick.
July 27, 2009: Acquires center Etan Thomas from Minnesota in exchange for Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins.
Aug. 1, 2009: Signs free agent guard Kevin Ollie.
Aug. 14, 2009: Hires former Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks as an assistant coach.
April-October 2009: Construction for the first phase of the Ford Center’s $100-million renovation.
Nov. 8, 2009: Snaps three-game losing streak by dominating 2009 world championship finalist Orlando with a 102-74 victory inside the Ford Center.
Nov. 24, 2009: Posts a 104-94 victory at Utah, one of the toughest places to win in the NBA, and the Jazz was at full strength with Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap all playing 32-plus minutes.
Dec. 22, 2009: Acquires point guard Eric Maynor and assumes the contract of Matt Harpring (who did not report) from the Utah Jazz in exchange for the draft rights to Peter Fehse.
Dec. 23, 2009: A 117-113 victory at Phoenix starts a five-game winning streak while ending a skid of five losses in a six-game span. Led by Durant’s 38 points, the Thunder evened its season record at 14-14 and would never dip below .500 again.
Jan. 18, 2010: Highlighted by Green’s driving dunk from 35 feet away with 12.2 seconds left in the game, the Thunder defeats the surging Hawks during an afternoon game on Martin Luther King Day in the reverend’s former hometown of Atlanta.
Feb. 12, 2010: Westbrook scores 40 points for the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star weekend in Arlington, Texas.
Feb. 13, 2010: Durant repeats as the H-O-R-S-E champion.
Feb. 14, 2010: Durant plays in his first All-Star Game, finishing with 15 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
Jan. 29-Feb. 21, 2010: A nine-game winning streak, which included five road victories in a six-game span. Brooks said he considers an 89-77 victory at Portland on Feb. 9 as perhaps the biggest win of the season. The Thunder savored that victory for an entire week because it was the last contest before the All-Star break.
Dec. 22, 2009-Feb. 24, 2010: Durant scores at least 25 points in 29 consecutive games. In the last 35 years, only Michael Jordan had a longer NBA streak, with 40 straight in 1986-87.
March 26, 2010: Thunder ends its 12-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Lakers with a convincing 91-75 victory inside the Ford Center, which saw the Thunder lead 80-47 at the end of the third quarter.
March 31, 2010: The Boston Celtics shoot 59.5 percent from the field, including 85.0 percent in the second quarter, and still lose 109-104 at home. The Thunder gets 37 points from Durant, 21 points and 10 assists from Westbrook and clutch back-to-back 3-pointers from Green late in the game.
April 3, 2010: The Thunder franchise wins at Dallas for the first time since Dec. 9, 2004. With the 121-116 victory, the Thunder clinches a playoff spot and is greeted at the airport at 12:15 a.m. by a vocal gathering of 100 fans outside a private hangar.
According to a newspaper report out of South Carolina, Oklahoma basketball coach Jeff Capel interviewed for the vacant Clemson job Friday. Instead, Capel actually was in Norman, hosting an OU recruit.
Last year around this time, Capel was said to be interviewing for the Arizona job. This came as a shock to Capel, who said he was taking a shower when the alleged meeting took place.
The Wake Forest job is now available, but a deal is said to be in the works with Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik, who is a longtime friend of Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman.
Given the current state of the Sooners’ program, Capel bolting to Clemson would be akin to getting out of Dodge before sunrise. It would be a cowardly move. Not so for Wake Forest.
OU holds a slight advantage over Wake in basketball tradition. The Demon Deacons have brought us Tim Duncan, Josh Howard, Chris Paul and Billy Packer, but they have lost four regional finals and advanced to only one Final Four (1962).
Wake Forest’s mailing address might have been enough to lure Capel, a Fayetteville, N.C., native and Duke product who never has hidden his affection for his home state, where his father still resides as a Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach.
A chance to go home can be an overwhelming force. It’s why Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina, why Bob Huggins left Kansas State for West Virginia after just one season, why Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford would crawl on his hands and knees to get from Stillwater to Lexington, Ky.
But with the Bzdelik deal pending, it appears we’ll never know how strong the gravitational pull back to Carolina could have been for Capel.
What transpired Monday represented a big step back to golf for Tiger Woods. It was his first public display of golf since early last November. It also was his first actual news conference since his life crumbled the day after Thanksgiving.
A bigger step comes when be tees off Thursday in the opening round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. How many more steps Woods must take to get his personal life in order is none of our business.
Woods fielded questions for 34 minutes at the Augusta National media center on Monday afternoon. This was not a speech. This was not an awkward, five-minute, scratch-the-surface, one-on-one interview staged on the terrace at Isleworth Country Club. There were 45 questions and Woods dodged roughly a half-dozen. Give the man credit. That’s far less tapdancing than he’s done this year.
It was easily Woods’ most genuine moment since his fall from grace. He smiled. He was contrite. He didn’t cry or get choked up. He seemed a little more relaxed with each answer. Woods said he was more nervous out on the course Monday than he was in the interview room, and I believe him. Woods can easily detach himself from other people in the same room. He can not detach himself from being the world’s greatest golfer, and right now he’s not sure how well he’ll play.
Woods will not be with his family this week. Wife, Elin, and their two children did not make the trip to Augusta. Woods said his business inner-circle will remain the same. Some wonder if this is wise given what transpired, that a clean slate might be the smarter move. To me, Woods keeping his same support group shows he has accepted responsibility for what happened. He is pointing a finger at himself and no one else, that he is to blame.
Red-eyed and sweating from a practice session in 88-degree weather, Woods seemed softer, less jagged around the edges. The man who wears power red on Sundays was wearing a light-toned shirt with a pink stripe on Monday. It seemed like a gentler Woods, though this guy never will be considered as cuddly.
The longer the news conference lasted, the more golf questions were asked. Woods will continue to sidetep questions he considers to be too personal. The more quickly the line of questioning centers on golf, the better it is for everyone concerned.
Someday, Woods will be able to stop tapdancing around questions and get back to why we all noticed him in the first place — golf. Monday was a big step in that direction.
Since 1952, when the Final Four started being staged at one site, only three teams have gotten to play the event when it’s staged in their hometown.
Louisville lost to West Virginia in a national semifinal at Freedom Hall in 1959.
UCLA played in the 1968 and 1972 Final Fours at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Granted, it was the home gym of arch-rival Southern California, but the games were still played in the Bruins’ quaint hometown of 2.8 million residents at the time.
This week, Butler gets to play at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which is seven miles from campus.
Other teams have been close to home for the Final Four.
Kansas played in the 1952, 1953, 1957 and 1988 national title games in Kansas City, Mo., which is 42 miles from Lawrence.
Kentucky played in the 1958 national title game in Louisville, which is 80 miles from Lexington.
Cincinnati played in the 1962 and 1963 national title games in Louisville, which is 105 miles away.
Kansas State played at the 1964 Final Four in Kansas City, which is 120 miles from Manhattan.
North Carolina State won its 1974 national title in Greensboro, which is 80 miles from Raleigh.
In 1950, CCNY won the national title in Madison Square Garden III, but back then there were only eight teams in the entire NCAA Tournament field.
- With its enrollment of 3,899 undergraduate students (4,200 total), Butler is the smallest school to reach the Final Four since St. Bonaventure in 1970. Broken Arrow and Tulsa Union High School have larger enrollments than Butler. The University of Tulsa, with its undergrad enrollment of 2,800 (and 4,200 total), nearly joined the Final Four’s small-school elite in 2000, losing to North Carolina 59-55 in the South Regional final in Austin.
- The seats at Victory Field, stretching from first base and curling around to third base, spell out “GO DAWG” for the Butler Bulldogs. Victory Field is home of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and a facility that was studied in the design of Bricktown Ballpark.
- The term “Final Four” did not appear in an NCAA publication until 1975 and the organization registered a trademark for the term in 1981.
- Local economist said having a team from Indianapolis in this week’s Final Four potentially could cost the host city 10-15 percent ($5-7.5 million) in revenue. Hotels and restaurants could take a hit because West Virginia and Michigan State are less than a seven-hour drive away and Duke is 10 hours.
“The whole key to economic impact is getting people to stay overnight. Once that goes away, then you lose that hotel stay, you lose that dinner and breakfast exposure,” Daniel Rascher told the Indianapolis Star. He is president of California-based SportsEconomics, which has studied the economic impact of four Final Four tournaments.
The proximity of Michigan State and West Virginia could decrease revenues another 5-10 percent on top of Butler.
One year ago this same weekend: Oklahoma was getting ready to take on Syracuse in a Friday night Sweet 16 game at Memphis; Oklahoma State’s season had ended five days earlier; the Thunder lost at Toronto to fall to 20-52 on the season.
This year: OU finished with nine straight losses and its worst record in 30 years; OSU lost its NCAA opening-round game; the Thunder is 43-27 and a half-hour away from playing the NBA’s best team in the Los Angeles Lakers.
Imagine how dull the final Friday in March would have been without the Thunder.
The Thunder has been around just 20 months, yet at times it’s difficult to imagine our sports lives without the franchise. Last season was intriguing because it was the Thunder’s first year. This season, the team’s somewhat unfathomable success has captured our attention.
Barring a late collapse, the Thunder is headed for the playoffs, perhaps against the defending world champion Lakers.
Locals already have put away their NCAA brackets for this year and are merely casual observers of the tournament. Meanwhile, local interest in the Thunder is anything but casual.
The Thunder will have our full attention at least through April and possibly into May. It’s only Year Two, but already our sports lives have grown accustomed to the rumble of the Thunder.