“Scott [Brooks] was our top candidate. There were a lot of teams interested in him and rightfully so. We moved quickly and had some very good conversations. He’s the perfect coach for our situation.”
As Ernie Grunfeld rattled off Brooks’ accolades during the coach’s introductory presser in D.C. – 2010 Coach of the Year and 2012 NBA Finals runner-up – Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light” played in the minds of Washington Wizards fans.
Used to ramble through the park...Shadowboxing in the dark...Then you came and caused a spark
Brooks sat next to Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis, donning modern glasses and a slim fitting grey suit. It was a change from the often stiff, grumpy-looking Randy Wittman – and his rhetoric was too. Brooks spoke about wanting John Wall to reach an MVP level and how he wants to continue developing Washington’s youthful wings, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.
Man, he really was perfect.
The start of their relationship was rocky; losing eight of the first ten games of the season was no way to make a first impression. But slowly, the Wizards began to turn it around. Wall, healthy, looked better than he ever did. Bradley Beal was snubbed from an All-Star spot, but was worthy of the title. Porter blossomed into one of the league’s most reliable marksmen. And the exit – a Game 7 loss against Boston in the semifinals – was nothing to be ashamed of, either.
The first year was blissful. His tendency to leave the dishes undone, or play an all-bench lineup, was overlooked. The team’s lack of cohesion late in games was swept under the rug.
But in Year 2, the cute stuff becomes a problem. It’s no longer fun to stay up all night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what went wrong as the team dropped yet another winnable game.
For Brooks, the honeymoon phase is over. The mistakes, the flaws and the insanity of it all are starting to become apparent.
On Saturday night, the Wizards – without Wall – were leading by 17 against the Portland Trail Blazers with less than nine minutes remaining. Washington lost, 108-105 in regulation.
Washington’s late-game offense has become an issue, as it’s been since Brooks became the team’s head coach – and as it was when he coached the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Brooks’ offense isn’t innovative – and that’s okay. Most NBA offenses aren’t. It’s all entirely based on pick-and-roll and shooting. But great coaches separate themselves from the good ones late in games, when it’s time to roll up the sleeves and design a play on the clipboard. But like in Oklahoma, Brooks has given the ball to his scorers and stepped away – a “show me what you got” tactic that’s rarely worked this season.
Bradley Beal tried to be methodical against the Blazers, dribbling the clock down and scoring to close the game. Except, like in other instances this season, the Wizards have failed to get the ball in the basket. Otto Porter, who’s been the Wizards’ most reliable offensive player this season (and one of the most efficient in the NBA), was barely utilized in the fourth quarter.
Otto Porter's last points came at 8:53 in the 4th when he was fouled. He didn't get another shot attempt after that point. I don't understand how that happens. #Wizards— Marcus Atkinson (@matkinson_bball) November 26, 2017
Who takes the blame? Porter’s teammates for not getting him the ball? Porter for not being assertive? Or Brooks, the person who draws up the plays and is supposed to correct the inefficiencies?
It’s on Brooks to find a way to seal the victory. Getting the most reliable players involved earlier in the game probably wouldn’t be a bad way to start.
Ian Mahinmi has scored 56 total points this season. He’s committed 57 total fouls. Brooks still insists on playing Mahinmi, probably hoping that he figures it out. But what if, all along, this is who Mahinmi was when the Wizards signed him to a $64 million contract? And what if, at 31-years-old, not much will change in the future?
Mike Scott, who’s shooting a career-high 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from three, didn’t hear his name get called by Brooks against the Blazers. He got two other DNP-CD’s earlier this month, too. What gives? Brooks would have a difficult time properly answering that question, even.
Brooks’ best asset as a coach is player development. It’s worked with Wall, Beal, Porter and it’s beginning to work with Kelly Oubre. The problem is, Washington doesn’t have much other young talent to develop, though, leaving the team with a head coach who’s struggling with the simplest of tasks – like managing playing time on the veteran-laden team.
Washington is tied for seventh in the East and the teams below – the Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic – aren’t too far behind. Salvaging this marriage is possible, but the problems are surfacing – and they’re no longer adorable mishaps that can be glossed over. Brooks has to start doing the simple things – wash the dishes, get more creative late in games, and, for the sake of everyone, play the players deserving of time.