Perhaps Kurt Rambis is a shoe-in to remain head coach of the New York Knicks. What this series presupposes is ... maybe he isn't? We already know that Carmelo Anthony expects a thorough search, and we are here for you, big cat! Feel free to use these profiles, Knicks front office bros.
This begins a regular feature on potential coaching candidates that interest the P&T staff, presented in no particular order of preference or likelihood or anything. First up: Scott Brooks!
Scott Brooks is a legitimate and interesting candidate to take the head coaching reins in New York. He has a healthy track record of getting his teams to identify themselves while growing their individual games, twisting molten talents into transcendent stars and hammering indistinct masses into sturdy role players. He did that in spite of the Thunder's weirdly unsteady, gun-shy organization (forgive me if you think otherwise). A slimy ownership change begat a 2,000 mile relocation from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Brooks was installed as an interim head coach for a struggling bunch of youngsters in late November of 2008. Of course, the word "interim" is basketball-speak for "obsequious pest". Brooks, to his credit, is an Anteater, and became the full fledged head coach shortly thereafter.
Like most people who work their way up in the world, Scott Brooks' path to an elite coaching post had some humble beginnings. He was born in French Camp, California, no doubt a huge Gilbert Luján fan. Somehow on his path to unemployed coach, he did what it took to get to UC Irvine, the CBA and eventually the NBA. He stuck in the big league as a back-of-the-rotation point guard who could shoot the pill a little bit, playing for six teams over ten seasons. That includes the 38 games he played for the Knicks in the 1996-97 season. The Knicks played his first team, Philadelphia, five times in that short span of season and Allen Iverson famously spun his ass around before splitting him open like a piñata.
Brooks finished playing and bounced about and assisted for six seasons with Denver, Sacramento and Seattle. While with
Seattle Oklahoma City, PJ Carlesimo (along with lead assistant Paul Westhead) was canned and the Supersonics Thunder handed the keys to Scott. Brooks quickly brought this amazingly young team (average age of 26) to an NBA Finals two years later. Then some pompous penny-pinching demolished a 22-year old load bearing wall, as ownership hid underneath an unconscionable bottom line. They've been searching for a decent two-guard ever since. Rudderless, pitiful.
Brooks kept coaching after James Harden was traded, of course. Despite being handicapped by his superiors, he kept the team winning games and if not for some poor luck with injuries they very easily could have been back to the Finals and done some more damage.
With 6+ seasons at the helm for Oklahoma City, Brooks managed to notch 62% of the available wins. If you exclude the coaches with two or fewer seasons under their belt, that would leave Brooks as the 11th best in NBA history. This happened despite the yucky 22-47 inaugural season with a rookie Russell Westbrook and 20-year old Kevin Durant in his second season. That same year Kyle Weaver averaged 20 minutes a game and Robert Swift was playing for his (never to be) second contract. Their steady veteran presence was current Phoenix head coach Earl Watson.
Who has Brooks coached?
Just a quick list and note on some guys that had Scott Brooks for their head coach in their rookie season. I'm not including the guys that never really played. The alliterative types- your Ryan Reids, Antonio Andersons and Mitch McGarys. Also not including Kevin Durant or the curious case of Jeff Green, even though he was an assistant when they were rookies.
- Russell Westbrook - "The Human Landslide"
- James Harden - He can play. Just not for Oklahoma City.
- Serge Ibaka - Foreign born shot blocker extraordinaire, defensive game changer, legit stretch four. Amazing returns on a 24th pick.
- Steven Adams - Foreign born wacko with legit serial killer vibes. Solid at everything you need your big fellas to do. Happy to stick to his starting caliber garbage detail. Solid return on a 12th pick.
- Reggie Jackson - Another 24th pick, this guy is now running the show in Detroit and it's no surprise. Despite being stuck behind the Human Landslide, Jackson developed and matured rapidly.
- Andre Roberson - Say what you will about his complete inability to help an offense. That will surely come back to bite them in the playoffs, but I would argue that's a failure of management. Roberson gives a great contribution every time he's on the floor. Not every 26th pick manages to succeed and start on one of the league's best teams.
BUSTERS (at least while Brooks coached them)
- DJ White - This fella doesn't quite fit the bill because he barely played and has since fizzled out of the league. He was a first round pick, albeit 29th and thusly worth mentioning.
- Eric Maynor - He's a curious case. Definitely played his best basketball with the Thunder. A 20th pick that seemed like he would be in the league for a long time, tore his ACL and was never able to recapture his game.
- BJ Mullens - Another 24th pick! That's interesting. Other than that, the guy has been a pure stink bomb.
- Cole Aldrich - Obviously he's the greatest player that ever lived, but he's no Kristaps Porzingis. Is he a bust-bust? No probably not. You do hope for more out of an 11th pick. The best player available was probably the guy they took 18th.
- Perry Jones - A 28th pick. He just never figured out where to go or what to do. Currently working on it in the D-League.
- Jeremy Lamb - Seemed like a decent pick considering the 2012 draft class. Lamb just doesn't seem to play with urgency. Something I'm sure Scott Brooks never cared for.
Who has coached Scott Brooks?
Some noteworthy coaches that have had Scott as a player. Hat tips to the many assistants, and other head coaches that I'm sure made a significant impact.
- Bill Musselman (Minnesota in the NBA and Albany in the CBA) - They won a championship in the CBA together. Bill was known for keeping a very tight rotation and being pretty strict and it seems maybe he was also a lunatic. Brooks certainly learned how not to be that way.
- Rudy Tomjanovich (Houston Rockets) - They won a championship in the NBA together. This was one of the first iterations of small ball to win a championship. Lots of 4-around with Hakeem Olajuwon in the pivot and shooters dotting the outside. Career .559 winning percentage. Certainly colored some of Brooks' thinking.
- Jeff Van Gundy (New York Knicks) - The great and wise JVG. One of the greatest coaches in Knicks history. Certainly he passed on something to Scott Brooks in those 38 cups of Diet Coke they shared.
- Mike Fratello (Cleveland Cavaliers) - In Brooks' final season as a player he got to sit in with another legend. If the Czar didn't tell Brooks everything he possibly could about coaching, they must have not been in the same room ever.
Who has he assistant-coached for?
- George Karl (Denver Nuggets) - Recently fired Kings coach. More on him later.
- Eric Musselman (Sacramento Kings) - Former Kings coach. Son of Bill. Drastically different philosophy from his father on how to approach the team.
- PJ Carlesimo (Seattle/OKC) - A real fire breathing dope. I always sided with Latrell. Nevertheless, dumbo knows the game inside and out.
What is Scott Brooks good at?
Without a doubt, Scott Brooks knows how to motivate his players to be prepared, work hard and play the game with passion. He perpetually got the most out of every player he could. Obviously he was gifted with some unreal talent, but unreal talents don't just automatically become champions. The dedication to the game and to improvement is a two way street, and Brooks has been able to squeeze out more and more from his players. Even when you think they can't possibly get any better, they elevate their games.
One way to make certain you get everything you can out of each individual is to put them in the position to succeed. It's something Derek Fisher iterated time and again and it's true. Take Serge Ibaka- as his game grew and his jump shot started to be a real weapon, the play calling allowed for fading and pops out of screens. He started getting corner jumpers and slowly trickled up the wing a little bit. Look at this rad chart!
Then you consider Brooks' positive attitude and self awareness. Part of why Fisher got cast aside was because he seemed humorless and unnecessarily vague. Brooks has more of a buddy vibe, similar to Kurt Rambis. They grew up about an hour away from one another. Some Northern Cali vibage is certain not to harsh anyone's Melo. Check out this interview he recently did with Chris Mannix. It's a nice way to get a feel for his general outlook on life and the game.
What is he bad at?
Brooks definitely struggled with X's and O's. Not that the game was lost on him, but the secondary planning was practically nonexistent. The Thunder's plan for what to do when the first action is blown up, was usually toss the ball to whoever is at the top of the key, or isolated on a wing and let them go one-on-one. While there needs to be a place for that sort of thing to flourish, you can't put that on repeat when the games get tight.
Another struggle for Brooks was identifying problems in the rotation. How Kendrick Perkins continued to get minutes when Steven Adams was producing for you is perplexing. Going long stretches of the game without at least one of Westbrook or Durant on the floor seemed a bit odd. Then relying on guys that appear to be net negatives on one or both ends of the floor. Or starting a guy only to cuff him to the bench as soon as he gets a breather?
What do the Albany Patroons have to do with anything?
Phil Jackson coached the Albany Patroons just before Scott Brooks showed up and played for them under coach Bill Musselman. That's what! Now we have something to bond over as we wait for the ayahuasca to reach our innermost galaxies.
The team Brooks played for is on the short list for best team in CBA history. They ended up winning the 1987-88 CBA championship. Scott's teammates included a bevy of current and former coaches including but not limited to Rick Carlisle (Dallas), Sidney Lowe (Minnesota), Kenny Natt, Tod Murphy, Tony Campbell (who was the team's star) along with some other former Knicks Michael Ray Richardson and Eric Fernsten.
Perhaps most intriguing among his old Patroon teammates-turned-coaches is his brother-in-Scott, Scott Roth. Roth was contracted to coach for CB Sevilla in the summer of 2014. The Spanish coach's association would not grant his credentials however and he had to coach by proxy using Audie Norris to act as the lead. Roth had to get Norris to call timeouts for him and Roth was not allowed to stand up on the sideline. Basically it was a reverse Ty Lue/David Blatt. CB Sevilla, as I'm sure you know, is the team Kristaps Porzingis played for in the Spanish ACB along with everyone's favorite draft and stashee, Willy Hernangomez.
Roth struggled with the X's and O's but is definitely getting a good amount of credit for growing young players. Sound like anyone we know? Before Roth was fired he had a wild press conference where he took swings at basically anyone that wasn't himself. He did credit Porzingis, Hernangomez and others for making real progress, but also said they were too young to compete on the stage. Maybe that's the case.
"I appreciate the fans' passion about wanting me the fuck out." - @cdbsevilla head coach Scott Roth #LigaEndesa http://t.co/BKwqvYqtlO— Austin Green (@LosCrossovers) January 8, 2015
Oh. Maybe that's not the case. Maybe late game situations and play-calling were just poorly orchestrated by the man with the white board. Take a look at this monstrosity:
Tapón de @waltertavares22 para darle la victoria al Herbalife @grancanariacb http://t.co/WmYtLTuvia— #CopaACB (@ACBCOM) January 4, 2015
To be clear that's not Scott Brooks, but that's a guy that has a grasp on a very valuable time in Kristaps' development and I bet he and Scott stayed friends. Brooks is too cool.
Speaking of the Spanish ACB, George Karl (I told you we'd get to him) has been hot on Scott's trail a couple times in the past. Karl was named coach of the Patroons after their 1988 CBA championship. Big shoes to fill, those Musselman size whatevers, and the stint was short lived. After one season Karl jetted to Spain to coach Real Madrid (Willy's current team) for two seasons and he recruited Brooks pretty heavily. Karl then went back to the Patroons for two seasons, where they slaughtered everybody for a while, but Scott went back to his old coach Bill Musselman. George finally ended up getting Scott on his bench as an assistant in Denver where they helped rear a young Carmelo Anthony.
So is this guy worth taking a shot on?
Some people will say that signing Scott Brooks will give you an inroad toward snatching Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka from the Thunder. While I don't think that's entirely wrong, I find it hard to believe that those guys will be swayed simply by the chance to be coached by their old friend. The prospect of playing in a large city with the media's clown car constantly harassing them might dampen the mood too. Can he lure those superstars by himself? Doubt it. Can he spin enough plates to keep superstars happy? Absolutely. One thing you never hear about in Oklahoma City is that Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka are sick of each other or upset that they don't have the ball enough. Perhaps a testament to their character, but certainly a coach was there to conduct their energies.
Gregg Popovich on Scott Brooks being fired: "He won't have to wait very long to be a coach again in this league. He's a quality guy."— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) April 23, 2015
Brooks is well-liked and that is well-known. If the Knicks don't do it, somebody will. Strange gaffes in the subbing and rotation can be altered and improved. Nebulous strategy in the late-clock offense can be drilled out with system-oriented basketball, and I'm sure Phil Jackson will express that in no uncertain terms. Brooks distinctly mentioned that he can coach to any system in the Mannix podcast above. The Triangle certainly falls under the "any" category.
One thing you can be certain of is that a team that lacks the talent will only be able to accomplish so much and no amount of coaching will put them over the top. If Phil Jackson can provide the talent, and the team can get the right amount of luck, the challenge is having a coach with enough feel for the game. Can Brooks tap the right substitutions, or make the smart play call? Without a doubt, he does not struggle with preparation, but can he anticipate the worst and be prepared to coax the best out of his team in the heat of the moment? I for one would love to find out.