Brooks is Here — Wizards Seek Redemption with New Head Coach | Wizards Blog Truth About

Brooks is Here — Wizards Seek Redemption with New Head Coach

Updated: April 22, 2016

The Washington Wizards have hired Scott Brooks, the 24th coach in franchise history—22nd if you only count the Baltimore/Washington years, which the current regime tends to do. Nonetheless, the 50-year-old now finds himself at the helm of his second professional basketball franchise. And if Brooks somehow gets to 52 or more wins with the Wizards (1), he’ll pass Flip Saunders for 11th place on the franchise’s all-time wins list.

Sound promising? In any case, a panel of TAIers is here to help gauge the temperature of this new hire; bathe yourself in the pixels.

Kyle Weidie [@Truth_About_It]

I haven’t read all the literature on Scott Brooks. Maybe the internet has established an authoritative opinion for me already. Maybe reaction to the unknown is merely a game of roulette. Maybe the Wizards could have done better.

No, Brooks is not an up-and-coming first-timer like the 48-year-old Kenny Atkinson, just hired by the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets. Nor is Brooks the fresh-faced 38-year-old Ime Udoka, an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs since 2012. But does this by default make the 50-year-old Brooks, who previously spent his seven years as an NBA head coach with one franchise (2), an uninspiring retread?

The Washington Wizards don’t think so, to the point where they made Brooks, already expected to be a top veteran coach target (along with Tom Thibodeau, already hired by Minnesota) for several teams this summer, their unabashed No. 1 target. Don’t be fooled, the Wizards had other unexplored options on their radar—contingency plans, if you will—but they didn’t want to stray too far from Brooks. They wanted to ensure Brooks, the man, that he was their target. This was a recruitment as much as it was a hiring—due diligence was less of a factor. Houston wanted Brooks according to reports, and Minnesota made an offer according to a league source (before relenting coaching and< front office power to Thibodeau).

The Wizards have also been in recruitment mode for a certain prodigal son as far back as late-2013, likely even further. And they are under no concrete assumptions that hiring Brooks brings them closer to signing Kevin Durant, along with Washington’s 2014 hire of David Adkins, Durant’s high school coach, from the bench of the University of Maryland’s women’s basketball team to lead Wizards player development. But it certainly doesn’t push Durant further away. And if you are a team—with lined-up and planned cap space and your top six players returning—and you’re going to recruit the NBA’s top free agent this summer who happens to be from the area, you better go all-in and make the destination as comfortable and familiar as possible. In fact, this might be the most familiar situation in the history of NBA free agent courting. Whether familiar is something that appeals to Durant isn’t clear, but if it were, the Wizards have the preemptive monopoly.

Let’s take a small step back for mankind but a giant step back in the history of the franchise. The team, mostly under the Pollin regime, was long been criticized for not going after top free agents or coaching candidates (nor did the franchise really set itself up to be a destination for such). More recently, many, myself included, have wondered if Ted Leonsis has been saving costs on a cheap coach (Randy Wittman) or even if ownership priorities have been misaligned with investment first in a new practice facility and an arena football team instead of securing a D-League franchise to enhance player development. In signing Brooks to a fully guaranteed $35 million over five years, per reports, the Wizards are ponying up while—believe it or not—avoiding a bidding war over Brooks with other teams. In other words: the Wizards didn’t want to send out feelers for all their potential prom dates only to get rejected by all by not showing a true commitment to a few. Whether you agree with this tactic or not, it’s a tactic.

I fully remember Scott Brooks as an NBA player (4) 1993-94 Houston Rockets. He was a shooter and one of those random guys who would somehow show up in threes in your pack of basketball cards and you’d be like: huh? The closest player comparison to Brooks’ NBA career according to’s Similarity Score: Randy Foye (5). Makes for nice fodder but barely an indicator of coaching prowess.

Brooks, after cutting his coaching teeth in what was then known as the ABA for two seasons (2000-02), served as an NBA assistant for four seasons and a fraction of one more. One of those was Kevin Durant’s rookie season (6), and in the next, head coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired after a 1-12 start. Brooks took over and the Oklahoma City Thunder went 22-47 (Russell Westbrook’s rookie season). The next season (James Harden’s rookie year) Brooks and the Thunder went 50-32 — good enough for 8th in the West! They lost in the first round by a spunky four games to two (one-point loss in Game 6) to the eventual champion and one-seeded L.A. Lakers. The Thunder with 55 wins made it to the conference finals the next season, 2010-11, chopping down Denver and Memphis en route to losing to eventual champ Dallas, 4-1. In the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, OKC finished with the third-best winning percentage in the NBA and took down the Mavs, Lakers, and Spurs before succumbing to the Miami Heat, 4-1, in the NBA Finals. The Thunder then lost in the conference semi-finals and conference finals in each of the next two seasons behind 60 and 59 wins, respectively. Then Oklahoma City missed the 2014-15 playoffs behind 15 missed games from Westbrook and 55 missed games from Durant, and Brooks was relieved of his duties. The fateful combination was injuries, luck of the draw in the West, and perhaps as much as anything, an inability to take the Thunder to the next level.

Brooks, NBA coach of the year in 2010, arrives in Washington with questions, for sure. And some of them are familiar questions. Is he innovative enough on offense? Does he rely on veterans too much? Do the rotations operate on gut feel? Can he get the Wizards to 50 wins and beyond? Is he championship caliber? (7) Near-future answers are vague and depend on how much one actually weighs the influence of an NBA coach. A good or great coach can be the difference-maker, mind you, but this is also a player’s league.

Durant is the franchise’s unspoken but totally public priority. But whether he comes to D.C. or not (I personally believe Durant will re-up with OKC for a couple years with an opt-out clause after one season), the Wizards, in attempting to bounce a single stone off multiple birds, are focusing on two areas that just about any Wizards follower would admit needed more, and better, attention: player development and being a good manager.

Wittman cared for his players, even his young players, but there was often an imbalance and disconnect between learning by watching and learning by doing. Brooks has a clear-cut track record in this area, not only with a drop-in-the-bucket like Durant, but with inexperienced college players who required a lot of refinement at the NBA level (Westbrook and Harden), along with those such as Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson who really blossomed out of nowhere. NBA insider David Aldridge has relayed that Brooks is a “big believer in the potential of Otto Porter”—this should be music to the ears of all curators of the “Free so-and-so young player” movements. The second component may have been the No. 1 pitfall of Wittman.

“He (Wittman) would tell them to figure it out,” relayed the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo in an article about what went wrong in Washington this season. Wizards players, according to Castillo, had asked their coach to settle an on-court dispute about pick-and-roll coverage. Instead of providing structure like a good manager would, Wittman’s old school sensibilities took over—you’re grown men, figure it out. That’s not exactly how good organizations work. In hiring Brooks, team insiders are counting not only on Brooks’ proven ability to hold all players on the roster accountable (another issue that various Wizards had with Wittman as it applied to John Wall and Nene), but also Brooks’ ability to communicate throughout the organization. Wittman left a lot to be desired in this area—it wasn’t just his communication skills with the media.

Could the Wizards have done better in their new head coach hire? Hard to tell. Could they have performed more due diligence and still landed on the same candidate? Probably. Would that have risked losing their predetermined top candidate? Perhaps. Could they have done worse? Certainly. Look back on the last few years if you need a reminder. Whatever the unknown case may be in Brooks’ potential for success, the Wizards set their sights high and did not waver, swiftly kicking off the most important offseason in years. After finally cutting ties fully with the Saunders/Wittman regime, it’s hard to knock the franchise for taking this first shaky step with as much confidence as they can.

Rashad Mobley [@Rashad20]

Clearly Scott Brooks has some coaching chops, because he led a talented Oklahoma City Thunder team to the NBA Finals—something that Randy Wittman, Flip Saunders, Ed Tapscott and Eddie Jordan never did with the Wizards. Yes, he arguably had three of today’s 10 best NBA players on his roster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, but it still takes a special coach to guide that talent properly. Brooks only made it to the Finals once, however, due to injuries, Harden’s trade to Houston, and his inability to figure out how to creatively use Durant and Westbrook in offensive schemes. One could argue that he’s thought long and hard about that since he was fired and is primed to fix that flaw in Washington.

There have been tweets, articles, and comments from NBA insiders on television that basically compliment Brooks on his ability to develop young talent. Chris Mannix of Yahoo!’s The Vertical wrote, “Brooks will simplify the offense, will get everyone to play hard and will amplify his team’s strengths while relentlessly hammering out its weaknesses.” If Brooks can make even the conference finals, he will have surpassed his predecessors.

What is problematic about this hire is the lack of due diligence by Ernie there’s-always-one-year-left-on-my-contract Grunfeld and his front office. Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek, Sam Cassell, and even Lionel Hollins were also available to be interviewed, but they were not. In the past two weeks on the Tony Kornheiser Show, NBA insiders from David Aldridge and Brian Windhorst have both indicated—based on their sources and conversations that they’ve had off the record—that Durant is not coming to D.C. But from the outside looking in, it appears as if the Wizards are still angling for him by having tunnel vision on his former coach. If Durant comes to D.C. all will be forgiven, but if he does not, Grunfeld will surely have his defense of Brooks ready. He’ll comment on his sharp young mind, how his scrappiness as an NBA player has translated to him being a successful coach and most importantly his win-loss record.

Why not interview other coaches—particularly defensive coaches like Jeff Van Gundy or Thibodeau—who would shore up Washington’s defensive deficiencies? Wall is in entering his seventh season, and he’s not young anymore (as Randy Wittman alluded to in his exit interview). Bradley Beal is in a pivotal contract summer and the Wizards only have five players currently locked in deals, which means personnel issues and coaching will be scrutinized beyond belief. Don’t those circumstances warrant a thorough search, rather than a biased, telegraphed hire?

Brooks could be the savior. He could have the healthy team Wittman didn’t have this season, or he could flat out bomb—but that’s the case with all coaches. It is just baffling that there were no checks and balances in place. But that’s #SoWizards, right?

Adam McGinnis [@AdamMcGinnis]

The positive pixels angle of this hire is apparent on the surface. Washington immediately sought after a high-profile, experienced coach and paid top dollar to secure their target. Scott Brooks is who they wanted and they used the necessary resources to get the deal done. We should commend the organization for this approach on an important basketball leadership position. Brooks has a background as a scrappy NBA player, paid his dues as an assistant, has a winning record as a coach, has won the highest honor in the profession outside of a championship, and helped develop an exciting group of young players in Oklahoma City and get them to the NBA finals. His credentials are legitimate and he chose to come to D.C. over other attractive options. He is well-liked by Thunder media types. Oh, and Brooks has a close personal relationship with one Kevin Durant as well.

However—and you knew this was coming—the decision is unfortunately not made in a rosy vacuum. The necessary context is that the much maligned and (perhaps) lame-duck Team President Ernie Grunfeld is still at the helm making this call. When Randy Wittman was jettisoned last week, Grunfeld had a predictable, meandering and defensive press conference full of platitudes that produced little confidence in a salty fanbase looking for real talk answers as to why this team appears rudderless in the aftermath of missing the post-season. Similar to Flip Saunders in 2009, the Wizards interviewed no other candidates, and the process of not exploring several options is difficult for many to understand. The problematic situation is especially toxic since majority of Wizards followers want anyone but Grunfeld in charge. To throw more fuel on the fire: critiques of Brooks are similar to the most familiar critiques of Wittman.

Majority shareholder of the Monumental Sports Wizards ownership group, Ted Leonsis, has gone basically silent and won’t level with his customers. Leonsis recently seems more involved in promoting a new Arena Football League venture than being transparent on the franchise’s basketball plan. Since Leonsis has checked out of the media narrative game, us blogger gadfly types have to begrudgingly explain to a pissed off fanbase that the three-year plan is actually still intact. Bringing the services of Kevin Wayne Durant back to the community that he loves more than anywhere else on the planet remains the goal. If hiring K.D.’s old NBA coach gets the Wiz brass closer to their goal, then so be it. Because if #KD2DC becomes a reality, the amount of laudatory praise heaped on everyone involved will be greater than Wizards No. 35 jerseys sold. All our criticism will be moot.

Regardless of whether Wanda Pratt and Tony Durant are sitting courtside this November, Brooks will now be on the sideline for 2016-17. I gave Wittman a fair shake of an evaluation at 4-and-28 and am willing to do the same for Brooks.

Welcome to D.C. Go, Anteaters!

Bryan Frantz [@BFrantz202]

In a word: Uninspired. In two more: Painfully unambitious. I don’t mind the hire, I hate the contract. To me, it reeks of a Team President trying to add a few more years to his tenure by tying himself to another coach for an extended period of time, and there’s a slight odor of “Maybe Kevin Durant will still come.” (On a side note, do we really know if Durant even wants to play for Brooks again?) If the Wizards want to move on from the Ernie Grunfeld era in a year, they’ll be forced to hire a GM who wants to work with Scott Brooks—Brooks isn’t known as a troublemaker, but an incoming GM would no doubt prefer to hire his own coach (8).

I expect John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Co. to improve, but I especially expect Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre to develop considerably. Brooks has a strong track record of taking young, high-upside players and getting the most out of them. He does not have a strong track record of maximizing production from an incredible wealth of talent, but that’s not an issue right now for two reasons: first, the Wizards don’t have an incredible wealth of talent; second, there is the chance that he’s improved as a coach and/or has better luck with a different group of players. Russell Westbrook is undeniably more talented than any player on the Wizards roster, but I’m willing to bet Bradley Beal is an easier personality for a (relatively) young coach to work with.

Ultimately, it feels like this is Ernie and Ted Leonsis saying: We’re totally fine winning 50 or fewer games every year. I’d love 50 wins in a season, but I’d also rather not waste the Wall/Beal/Porter/Oubre prime years hoping to compete to lose to LeBron James in the conference finals.

  1. Brooks has been a head NBA coach over seven seasons but only five of those seasons (interim and lockout) were full 82-game slates; he achieved 50 or more wins in four of those five seasons.
  2. Brooks currently ranks 74th in games coached on the all-time NBA coaches list, just two games short of Wes Unseld.
  3. I graduated high school the summer after Brooks’ last NBA season, 1997-98.)]. Six teams, 10 seasons, 680 games, one NBA championship with Sam Cassell’s (3Cassell’s rookie year, and more accurately, they were Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets.
  4. Ernie Grunfeld is on the list.
  5. Durant’s 2008-09 rookie season was spent in Seattle.
  6. Was Doc Rivers a championship-caliber coach in Boston before Danny Ainge landed him Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen? Or was he ripe for the chopping block with the Celtics? Having failed to get the Clippers past the second round in each of the past two seasons—with prospects looking grim in a third season—is Rivers a championship-caliber coach now?
  7. That said, Grunfeld did agree to come aboard in Washington when Eddie Jordan was already in the fold.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.