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News » Coach well-versed in hard knocks: Scott Brooks hopes his struggles as a 5-10, undrafted guard help smooth the way for the Thunde

Coach well-versed in hard knocks: Scott Brooks hopes his struggles as a 5-10, undrafted guard help smooth the way for the Thunde

Coach well-versed in hard knocks: Scott Brooks hopes his struggles as a 5-10, undrafted guard help smooth the way for the Thunde
Jan. 9--There are long odds, and there are numbers so astronomical as to fry the circuits of your brain just trying to be computed.

Hitting all of the numbers to win the lottery jackpot involves long odds. Then there is turning around the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That's the job of Scott Brooks, part head coach, part nurse and part EMT. If only it were as simple as using defibrillator paddles to jump-start a franchise back to life.

"It's not easy to sit here every night and sound like a broken record, telling everybody we're getting closer," Brooks said. "But like I tell my guys every night, most of the things worth achieving in life aren't easy."

Brooks knows about doing things the hard way. As a 5-10, undrafted point guard, he scratched and clawed out an 11-year NBA career with seven teams, including that magical 1993-94 season with the Rockets when they won the first of their back-to-back championships. He finished most of the games Kenny Smith started for the first half of that season until the irrepressible Sam Cassell grew into the role of the closer.

"It's weird," Brooks said. "Every day when it was happening, I knew it was special to be on that team. Hakeem (Olajuwon) would say, 'Enjoy the journey.' Because when you get to the final place, you have to be able to look back and say, 'Wow! What a great time of our lives!'???"

These days, the challenge of Brooks and his Thunder's lives is to remember each small step so that one day they might fully appreciate how far they've climbed. Right now, it's the kind of trek usually accompanied by a Sherpa guide and a yak.

The Thunder enter tonight's game against the Rockets with a 5-31 record, having turned the page on a new calendar year and still flirting with a pace that could challenge the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers' all-time worst NBA record of 9-73.

In its first season since relocating from Seattle to Oklahoma City, the team already has set a franchise record with 11 straight home losses and tied the mark for consecutive overall losses at 14.

As great sports disasters go, Brooks might as well be standing on the deck of the Titanic while sipping a can of New Coke.

"Yeah," Brooks said chuckling, "a lot of us don't get to pick our spots."

Told to go for it by P.J.

The 43-year-old was dropped into the eye of the storm Nov. 22 when the man who hired him as an assistant, P.J. Carlesimo, was fired after following up a 20-62 record last season in Seattle with a 1-12 start.

"I have a lot of respect for P.J., and he understands the league better than I do as a coach," Brooks said. "It's not easy. But I've talked to him multiple times, and he says: 'Scott, do it. This is the league. Look at how many coaches have already been fired. When your chance comes, you grab it, even when it's sudden.'???"

Truth is, Brooks' rise to head coach is anything but sudden. In a way, he has been preparing for the job since he left Cal-Irvine, played with Albany in the CBA, and eventually bounced from Philadelphia to Minnesota to Houston to Dallas to Cleveland to New York to Los Angeles from 1988 to 1999 in the NBA, averaging 4.9 points and 2.4 assists.

"Let's face it, there's not a lot of guys that don't get drafted -- and there were seven rounds when I came out -- that play 10 years plus," Brooks said. "When you're a player without a lot of great athletic ability, you have to find a way to get the job done. You don't have to be the fastest or jump the highest. But you can get things done if you figure it out."

Rockets broadcaster Matt Bullard was Brooks' teammate for the 1994 championship run and could see a budding coach then.

"Guys like Scotty, who are bench players, who maximize their careers, understand the game so well," Bullard said. "Plus, being in the point guard position, he had to know the game.

"I always call him my favorite teammate I ever had. He was a great teammate. I think that will lend well to coaching young people. I think that's ultimately what that team is looking for in a coach, someone who will relate well to the younger players so that they can progress as pros and also not look to go somewhere else when their contracts are up."

Brooks stepped right in, changed the starting lineup, shrank the rotation, drastically altered the practice routine, and has tried to be resolutely positive in the face of so many defeats. He has, for the most part, put the season into the youthful hands of second-year pros Kevin Durant (20) and Jeff Green (22) and rookie Russell Westbrook (20).

"I think Scott is intense, but he wants what's best for us every time," said Durant, the 2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, who leads the team in scoring at 23.9 points a game. "As a former player, he knows what it's like for us to go through this. He's not always negative."

There was a sense around the team that Carlesimo's constant criticism and focus on mistakes eventually was just tuned out, and he was fired after a 105-80 loss at home to New Orleans on Nov. 21.

Making inroads

"Scott has been all about being positive," Green said. "Everything he does is trying to make us better. He's intense about trying to get us on the right track, and our intensity has picked up. But what he's doing most is putting us in a better position to win."

Westbrook replaced Earl Watson as the starter at point guard and was named NBA Rookie of the Month for December.

Under Brooks, the Thunder rotation is smaller, moves the ball better and plays faster. In the 23 games since he has taken over, Oklahoma City has lost just six times by double figures and only twice by more than 11 points.

"We want to continue to see progress from our younger players," said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. "We want to see our guys compete on a nightly basis.

"Defensively, we still have work to do. Offensively, the game is easier for us now. I think the experiences Scott has gained from playing and being an assistant are going to eventually benefit us. Now we're in games."

Closing games out is the next hurdle. The Thunder have lost five games by one or two points, some of them agonizing defeats. Allen Iverson hit a jumper with 0.2 seconds left to beat the Thunder in Detroit on Dec. 26, and Carmelo Anthony drained a 3-pointer with 0.1 second remaining to give Denver a two-point victory last Friday.

"The frustration is there, and that's part of it," Brooks said. "Hey, I was frustrated my first year out of college when I didn't get drafted and didn't make an NBA team. I was frustrated when Rudy T (Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich) traded me (in 1995). That's part of the game. You have to fight through the frustrations. Tough times never last forever."

It's the tough little guys like Scott Brooks who often do.

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Added: January 10, 2009


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