The Oklahoma City Thunder announced the firing of head coach Scott Brooks on Wednesday after the club failed to reach the postseason.
Brooks, 49, spent the last seven seasons on the Thunder bench, helping the squad reach the postseason five times and the NBA Finals back in 2012. He was named the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year and went 338-207 over seven seasons.
The 2014-2015 season was marred by injuries, as superstar forward Kevin Durant missed 55 games, Russell Westbrook missed 15, and Serge Ibaka was sidelined for the final 18.
"[Brooks] led us, man," said Durant. "He made sure everybody was emotionally stable because we had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup and he kept everybody together. That's what your head coach is supposed to do. I can't really say nothing about it because he did his job. He kept us together."
Thunder general manager Sam Presti insisted in a statement that Brooks’ firing wasn’t solely based on this season’s disappointing campaign.
"This is an extremely difficult decision on many levels," Presti said. "This decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain. We determined that, in order to stimulate progress and put ourselves in the best position next season and as we looked to the future, a transition of this kind was necessary for the program."
After the Thunder wrapped up the regular season, Yahoo Sports reported the team intended to evaluate Brooks and determine whether to keep him on as he entered the final year of his contract.
The change at the helm comes as the Thunder enter a very critical juncture with Durant and Westbrook, an All-Star point guard who enjoyed a sparkling second-half of the season.
Durant, a three-time scoring champion and last season’s league MVP, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016 and speculation as swirled around whether or not he will stay in Oklahoma City. The 26-year-old has stated publicly several times that he is focused on the Thunder and not actively thinking about his pending free agency, but several reports have linked Durant to his hometown Washington Wizards and even the New York Knicks.
Westbrook becomes a free agent in 2017, and he could potentially leave the Thunder on Durant’s coattails.
One of the ways the Thunder and Presti can lock in Durant and Westbrook in the long term is finding a new head coach to his liking.
Citing unnamed sources, Yahoo reported that Florida’s Billy Donovan, who nearly left the college ranks to join the Orlando Magic in 2007, is friends with Presti and would be interested in making the switch to the NBA. Donovan actually agreed to become Orlando’s head coach, but at the last minute backed out of the deal.
Another highly speculated candidate has been Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie. A former 13-year NBA veteran point guard, Ollie was credited by Durant for helping the Thunder change the team's culture during the 2009-2010 season. As a coach, Ollie guided the underdog Huskies to an improbable NCAA tournament championship in 2014 and has since been tied to several NBA openings.
However, Ollie issued a statement Wednesday that seemed to squash any chances he leaves UConn.
"As I have said many times, I am proud and honored to be the head basketball coach at the University of Connecticut and I have no plans to pursue other opportunities," Ollie said in the statement. "We are already excited about next season and I am looking forward to preparing our team to be the best we can be on the court, in the classroom, and in our community."
Ollie is currently under a five-year, $15 million contract with the Huskies, which he signed in May of last year.