OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Scott Brooks plans to return as coach next season, despite talk that his job is in jeopardy.
Oklahoma City finished this season with a 45-37 record, but the Thunder failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. The French Camp native and former East Union star said said he feels secure about his future with the team.
“I expect to be the coach,” Brooks said Thursday. “I’m proud to be the coach of this organization. I love being here. I expect to be the coach next season.”
Though the Thunder reached the Western Conference Finals three of the previous four years and went to the NBA Finals in 2012, Brooks been criticized for failing to win a title with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant was last year’s MVP and is four-time scoring champion, while Westbrook was this year’s All-Star MVP and scoring champion.
Brooks said dealing with rumors comes with the job.
“There’s always going to be speculation,” he said. “You have to be able to do your job, regardless of what’s out there, and I’m proud to be here, and I’m excited about the talent that we have here.”
Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all say Brooks did a good job under the circumstances. Durant played just 27 games this season after breaking a bone in his right foot. Ibaka, the team’s defensive anchor, missed the final month of the season after right knee surgery. Several other players, including Westbrook, missed significant time with injuries.
For a 14-game stretch early in the season, the Thunder were without both Westbrook (broken right hand) and Durant and went 4-10 to immediately fall behind in the rugged West.
Guard Anthony Morrow missed the start of the season with a knee injury and rookie forward Mitch McGary played in just one game before February because of several injuries. Later in the season, center Steven Adams (broken right hand), guard Andre Roberson (sprained left ankle) and forward Nick Collison (sprained left ankle) also missed several games. Center Enes Kanter barely practiced the last month of the season with a bum left ankle.
“With all the challenges that we’ve had — we’ve had a lot of injuries, from the start of the year to the very end of the year,” Brooks said. “A lot of times, when they happen early, all of us, including myself, ‘Well, it’s better to get it over early in the season.’ That (the injuries) didn’t stop happening.”
Oklahoma City was rolling before Durant had a second surgery to replace a screw that was put in the foot during the initial surgery. He eventually had a third procedure and was ruled out for the season. Even with all that, Oklahoma City was in the playoff hunt until the final night of the regular season.
“He rallied us,” Durant said of Brooks. “He made sure everybody was emotionally stable. A lot of guys in and out of the lineup, and he kept everybody together.
That’s what a coach is supposed to do. I can’t really say nothing about it because he did his job. He did his best job he can do, and I’m proud of him.”
Ibaka, a three-time first-team all-defense player and two-time blocks leader, said it’s not fair to hold the results against Brooks, given the circumstances.
“It’s really hard to say the negative things because they (the injuries) really didn’t give us the option,” Ibaka said. “What we can do right now is learn from this and try to get better next year.”
The Thunder added Kanter and guard Dion Waiters during the season, and both ended up being starters. Westbrook said that adds another level to the challenge Brooks faced.
“He did a great job,” Westbrook said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for some of the stuff he does behind the scenes. Obviously, a lot of people that’s not in this building maybe want him to do different things, and want to see other things from him, but as a coach and as a friend, I think he does an amazing job of communicating what he wants out of his players.”
Kanter, a 6-foot-11 center, averaged 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in 26 games after being traded from Utah. Waiters, a shooting guard, averaged 12.7 points in 39 games after being acquired from Cleveland.
Brooks looks forward to coaching a team with a healthy Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook, along with Kanter and Waiters. He said this is the most offensive ability the Thunder have had during his seven-year tenure.
“The optimism is there,” he said. “We have a very talented basketball team. Another year of experience is going to get us to being a better team.”