Scott Brooks’ reputation as a coach--fairly or unfairly--has been largely a referendum on his ability to get stars to play together. When Brooks was in Oklahoma City, he had the unique opportunity to coach three future league MVPs at the same time, very early in their careers. He coached Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden to the NBA Finals in 2012, well ahead of when many thought they’d be ready to compete on the league’s biggest stage.
Perhaps they could have gone even farther if the Thunder had stayed healthy, and if they hadn’t traded James Harden to Houston during the offseason. Still, when most people judge his time in Oklahoma City, they point to missed opportunities, particularly with how he managed late-game situations between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder were never able to settle the question of who should be the alpha in late-game situations. Even in 2012-13, when they finished with the best record in the West and had the second-best record in the league, they had the 16th-best clutch net rating and the 22nd-best effective field goal percentage.
For all the good that Brooks did with the Thunder, he couldn’t figure out a way to manage Westbrook and Durant’s egos or hold them accountable for critical late-game errors. Their inability to work things out played a part in the Thunder’s decision to part ways with Brooks in 2015 and in Durant’s decision to leave the following summer.
This season, Brooks has the opportunity to rewrite his reputation as a coach with a roster that’s well-suited to expose his weaknesses. Consider what Brooks will need to overcome to make the Wizards successful this season:
- Last season, the Wizards had many of the same struggles his old Thunder teams did with closing games. Wall and Beal couldn’t find a good balance and as a result, the Wizards had the third-worst effective field goal percentage in clutch situations. The Hornets and Grizzlies were the only two teams who shot worse from the field in those situations.
- While the Wizards took care of the simmering discontent between John Wall and Marcin Gortat, they’re opening a whole new can of worms with Dwight Howard. On the court, he’s been known to become a malcontent when he isn’t getting post touches, he has a tendency to dribble too much when he gets the ball in the post, and can be turnover-prone despite not being an elite-level high usage player. Off the court, reports have run rampant that both the Hawks and the Hornets were happy to see him go after just a season.
- Last season, Howard led the league with 17 technical fouls. Markieff Morris wasn’t far behind with 13. Oh, and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 10 as well. The only other team in the league that has three players on their roster who had at least 10 technical fouls last season is the Warriors.
If Scott Brooks had such a challenging time getting two of the best players in the world to work together, what chance does he have with this group? But that’s why this is such a golden opportunity for Brooks.
Imagine a year where Dwight Howard is productive, where there is little to no bickering in the media amongst teammates and the Wizards are a relative success. If he can figure out a way to make it all work, it will go a long way to getting the Wizards where they need to be and it will silence his most vocal critics in the process. He would be the toast of the town.
If it doesn’t work out, it would be hard to blame Brooks for failing. Well-regarded coaches like Mike D’Antoni, Stan Van Gundy, and Mike Budenholzer have all had their issues getting the most out of Howard. At the same time, if he can’t get it done, it will further the perception that he can’t get the most out of his talent.