We are approaching nearly one calendat year since the Wizards fired long time President of Basketball Operations, Ernie Grunfeld. As we get closer to the anniversary of that event, the Wizards are crossing the point of making yet another monumental (no pun intended) decision.
Scott Brooks is quickly approaching the final year of his contract and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of traction of which direction things may go, which is very concerning. We don’t have to look much further than what happened to Brooks’ predecessor, Randy Wittman.
Wittman received a two-year contract extension after taking the Wizards from 29 wins to 44 wins and a playoff berth in the 2013-14 season. With a young back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal, it seemed like the Wizards were a team of the future. Unfortunately things didn’t go much further.
The Wizards ended up being knocked out the 2nd round two straight years and then Wittman entered the next season on the final year of his contract. His contract had an option for a 3rd year, but that option was never picked up and the effects of a lame duck coach lingered throughout the season. The team ended up finishing a disappointing 41-41, missing the playoffs.
There were reports of Wittman struggling to maintain the locker room and even having a severed relationship with then-center Marcin Gortat. Granted some of this could be a result of Wittman’s stern personality, but certainly it did not help that he did not have the support of the organization enough to give him more years on his contract going into the year.
The thought of Scott Brooks possibly seeing the same situation should evoke some thoughts about what we have witnessed for almost 4 years now and allow ourselves to ask, is it really necessary to go down that road again? Haven’t we seen enough to know what direction this team should go in with their coach?
Under Brooks, the Wizards peaked during his first season winning 49 games for the first time since the 1978-79 season and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, before ultimately losing to the #1 seeded Boston Celtics. The team has declined in win totals each season since. This trend has also coincided with injuries to all-star point guard John Wall who has missed large portions (if not all) of the past 3 seasons.
This season, the Wizards were not expected to do much, with John Wall expected to be sidelined for at least a large portion of the year and the team strapped with a number of bloated contracts. The Wizards have fought to be the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference despite a number of injuries this season beyond Wall’s absence.
It would also be fair to mention that they are doing all of this while having the worst defense in the NBA based on points allowed and defensive rating. That is certainly commendable to overcome all of that to still have success, but does an overachieving team that is still far away from true contention invoke confidence that this team can go much further once they are fully healthy?
There are a couple of ways to look at this. You can look at it as though he was truly hamstrung by some of the roster decisions that were made by Grunfield that did not allow the team to build on his first year’s success. You can also look at losing your star player for a majority of his tenure. These are valid reasons to wonder if the team could have done more to help Brooks during his time here.
With that said, this is not Brooks’ first job. He failed to take a very young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder team to win a championship despite having arguably two of the best players in the league on the roster for the entire time he was there and also having future NBA MVP James Harden as well.
Despite being touted as a coach who develops young talent, he has struggled to develop players like Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, and Kelly Oubre. Each of these players, despite having some success also saw periods of time where they were taken out of the rotation and ultimately for one reason or another, ended up leaving the team. Though Brooks has a characterization of a coach that develops young players, that came from his time in Oklahoma City. He hasn’t done the same in Washington.
When we look back at these past four seasons, the transformation of Bradley Beal stands out above all, but it’s really hard to quantify his growth as a product of Brooks versus just the natural progression of a gifted player.
If you ask me, I think we are seeing the Bradley Beal we always hoped we would see, but even then he is being asked to do a lot. Beal has been in the top 10 in minutes per game in the entire league in 3 out of the 4 years that Brooks has been here. The one year he wasn’t top 10, Brooks’ first year, he was 17th, while Wall was 7th.
As we saw in the Celtics’ series in that same year, the amount of minutes that he demanded of Wall and Beal took its toll as the series went on, where both players shots looked flat and demonstrated some levels of fatigue during parts of the final games of the series.
Not only does he rely on them heavily, but he often deviates from the normal half court sets the team runs at the end of quarters and games to run heavy isolation plays with Wall and Beal, much like he did for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
These plays have led to both players taking a lot of contested shots that also led to misses at critical points of the game. Those scenarios do not bode well for the team and it has lead to under-usage of sharp shooters like Otto Porter and Davis Bertans, who rarely get opportunities to have sets run for them.
All in all, Brooks is in no means perfect. He has his flaws for sure, but he is a player’s coach that is well-regarded and respected around the league. Despite that though, the only thing that matters is if he is capable of making this team a contender.
This team needs to make a decision soon. If you haven’t figured out if Brooks is the guy by now, he probably isn’t the one you want to lead this team going forward. It would be better to start with a new coach who is capable of incorporating General Manager Tommy Sheppard’s vision for this organization going forward and work on building a roster that maximizes that vision.
If Brooks isn’t that guy, then he should not be brought back after this season is over, but if he is the one that Sheppard thinks can lead this team to greener pastures, then he should get an extension before next season. There is no sense of going into next year with the uncertainty of who will lead this team into the future. This organization needs continuity but it also needs the right people in place for that continuity to lead to the goals this team expects to meet going forward.