In case you haven't heard, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally cut ties with Scott Brooks this morning, as reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Oklahoma City has fired coach Scott Brooks, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 22, 2015
If anything, the move is a fascinating contrast on how the Sacramento Kings handled their own incumbent coach at the beginning of the season, Michael Malone. And, for good measure, its worth considering how the Golden State Warriors handled Mark Jackson. All three of these coaches had intriguing similarities: all were beloved by the players on their roster, all three were defensive-minded and hard-nosed in their own way, and all three ran unimaginative offenses that made them pariahs in the eyes of X's and O's geeks. Both Brooks and Jackson were central to turning around their losing franchises, and Malone was definitely heading down that path after having the season opening month of Kings fans' dreams.
None are coaching their teams any longer.
Its amazing to consider that Brooks took over the Thunder as an interim coach in 2008 when P.J. Carlesimo was fired. The Thunder were happy with his work and removed the interim tag the following year. The next three years became about the meteoric rise of the Thunder as a championship contender, with Brooks being named Coach of the Year in 2010 and culminating with an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Unfortunately, after losing to the more experienced Miami Heat, the Thunder spent the next three years battling injuries and losing talent, and Brooks' gameplans fell under the microscope. There was no doubt Brooks was supported by his players, but onlookers continuously questioned his dry offensive sets and wondered if he was the coach to take the Thunder to a championship. Yet still, Brooks held on for three more years before finally being shown the door by management after a season without reigning MVP Kevin Durant. The Thunder now go into the offseason looking for the right coach to take the team to the next level.
Jackson took over the Warriors before the 2011-2012 season after the new ownership dismissed Keith Smart. The Warriors made the playoffs for the first time under Jackson a year later in 2013, upsetting the Denver Nuggets in the first round before giving the San Antonio Spurs hell in the second round. The Warriors made the playoffs again the next year under Jackson's reign, but, without their defensive anchor Andrew Bogut, succumbed to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round in seven games. Although beloved by his players, Jackson was heavily criticized for his isolation-centric offense and alienating everyone in the front office. He was replaced by Steve Kerr, who in fact did take the Warriors to another level, winning a franchise record number of games and becoming an instant favorite to win the NBA championship.
And that leaves us with Malone and the Kings. We all know this story all too well. The Kings, under Malone, surprised the entire league with their 5-1 start and 9-6 month of November in the face of an insanely difficult schedule. DeMarcus Cousins was even getting whispers of MVP contention. Alas, Boogie fell ill to the fateful viral meningitis disease, missing nearly a month of action to derail the Kings' rise to respectability. During this time, the Kings' record fell to 11-13, and Malone was criticized for his dry offensive sets, especially in clutch situations where the go-to play was a Rudy Gay isolation clear-out. Malone was immediately dismissed, and the rift between him and the front office came to light. The Kings would flounder under Tyrone Corbin for two months, management then courted George Karl in an embarrassingly public display that included dragging their franchise name's player into the mud, but it now it appears that Karl has restored stability to the coaching carousel for the time being.
What is most interesting about the three situations is the timing of the coach's respective departures. Brooks was given six years, which commentators have complained is far too long. On the other extreme, Malone was fired early in the season after only a year in charge, sending the Kings into a tailspin and earning the scorn of onlookers everywhere. For the Warriors, replacing Jackson after two years was seen as a risky move that has appeared to pay immediate dividends. It remains to be seen how the Kings under Karl and the Thunder under their yet-to-be-named replacement will fare in the upcoming season.
Basically, it's a fascinating look at the different front office philosophies towards a coach that is not viewed as the long term answer. The Thunder gave Brooks years upon years and only removed him once he had absolutely exhausted his potential. The Warriors let Jackson establish himself in the playoffs but didn't hesitate to replace him after only a couple of years worth of opportunity at advancing the team. And the Kings fired Malone before he even had a chance to get the plane off the ground.
Who got it right? Perhaps time will tell. It definitely makes for interesting debate.