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LOS ANGELES - As the final seconds trickled off the game clock in the Thunder's home finale last Friday night, a small group of fans seated in Section 101 stirred up a chant.

"Hire Scott Brooks!" they shouted in unison.

Their cries characterized the sentiments of many, from the stands to the locker room.

But as the Thunder enters its season finale tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers inside the Staples Center, the word interim still precedes the word coach in Brooks' title.

A survey by The Oklahoman of all 15 Thunder players yielded 13 players who are in favor of Brooks returning as the full-time coach. Chucky Atkins declined to comment, and Russell Westbrook was non-committal.

But even with overwhelming support from players and a growing segment of the fan base in favor of lifting Brooks' interim tag, general manager Sam Presti has been unwavering in his desire to defer contract talks until the off-season.

Since taking over for fired coach P.J. Carlesimo on Nov. 22, only 13 games into the season, Brooks has compiled a win-loss record of 21-47. His best stretch was a 10-9 record from New Year's Eve through Feb. 8. From Dec. 19 through March 10, the Thunder went 15-17, supplying optimism for what the team could accomplish under Brooks while overshadowing a 2-17 start and a 4-13 limp to the finish line.

Brooks, however, is unwilling to discuss his status, but sounds like a coach who quietly approves of the job he's done.

"We've improved every month of the season, and when we judge our team's improvement it's not just the record," Brooks said. "It's how we compete. It's how we execute. It's how we make winning Basketball plays. And every player I feel has gotten better. They're maturing as Basketball players. They're understanding situations. I see a lot of great things. But we still have to have a great summer and continue to work hard and stay humble."

The Thunder evolved into a more competitive team under Brooks. The margin of defeat since he took over is 5.6 points, 6.7 points fewer than the 12.3-point average margin of defeat the Thunder saw in 13 games under Carlesimo.

The Thunder also ranked last in field-goal percentage (40.4 percent) and turnovers (17 per game) under Carlesimo but has risen to 27th in field-goal percentage (44.5) while continuing to rank last in turnovers (16.2).

It's that type of improvement that leads many inside the Thunder's locker room to back Brooks, who has gotten the most out of his players despite adding only wrinkles to the same plays that Carlesimo ran.

"He's been doing a great job for us," said Kevin Durant. "I think if he has a full training camp with us and a preseason he could do some good things. Hopefully we give him a chance and he's the coach here for the future."

Players credit Brooks for already changing the culture of the Thunder through his open communication, unwavering positive outlook and his ability to relate to his team by drawing on his own experience as a former player.

And rather than force the players into a certain system, as one player recalled Carlesimo doing, Brooks has allowed the players' talents to dictate the system.

Guard Shaun Livingston said one benefit to retaining Brooks is he's a young coach who doesn't mind playing younger players, while a veteran hire could resist trotting out first- and second-year players and risk stunting their growth.

"He sees what we're going through on the floor and he gives us a lot of room for mistakes," Durant said. "And if we make mistakes he doesn't just yank us out. He lets us play through them. I think we're just out there having fun. It's been like that for a long time now."

The biggest issues facing Brooks if he is to be named the full-time coach are whether he can successfully implement his own system, develop a sensible rotation, manage late-game play calling and ultimately win.

"I think he deserves a fair opportunity to be judged," said Earl Watson. "This year was a different year, a lot of transition on our team. Going into the summer and into next year, it'll be a chance for him to have more of a solid foundation to coach the players who are actually going to be a part of the future."

Thunderat Clippers

Time: 9:30 tonightWhere: STAPLES Center, Los AngelesTV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37)Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM, Sirius 220, XM 232Live blog:

Three things to knowThis is the season finale for both teams. A loss for the Thunder guarantees Oklahoma City will finish with the fourth-worst record.The Clippers lead the season series 3-0.Los Angeles has lost 19 of its past 23 games. The Thunder has lost 13 of its past 17.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 17, 2009


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