Next Thunder Coach Must Be Edgier, Meaner Than Brooks—Someone Like Thibodeau

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterApril 22, 2015

USA Today

It's not enough just to get along.

Everybody liked everybody in Oklahoma City, and the good vibrations and high-end talent very well could've brought an NBA championship in recent years with fewer injuries.

That didn't happen, though, and with the Thunder announcing Wednesday that they've fired head coach Scott Brooks, via NBA.com, it becomes clearer what besides health was missing from the mix with those teams.

It can actually be better when everyone isn't getting along.

And if hard-driving, NBA-savvy Tom Thibodeau parts ways this offseason with a Chicago Bulls brass that doesn't appreciate him, he'd be the perfect hire to clarify the urgency in OKC.

The atmosphere of excellence wasn't what it could have been under Brooks. There's something to be said for being on edge, for feeling pressure, for being worried about letting someone down.

There was always so much support with the Thunder because Brooks was so good at making the players see and feel how much he was behind them. It's his gift, and it will serve him well in another job where the team needs that positivity.

But Oklahoma City was not a situation where the co-stars were bickering and the coach had to make peace.

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As Kevin Durant cited in his NBA MVP speech a year ago, he and Russell Westbrook have a healthy brotherly competition to work hard and achieve big. Brooks was their guy, their supporter, their champion even when they kept failing to be NBA champions.

That safety net can be immensely comforting, but after a while, it can soften you.

What the Thunder need the most is a clear sense of urgency. Some of that was coming anyway, with Durant's free agency in 2016 (and Westbrook's in 2017). Trading for Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters during the season and upping the payroll added to the urgency, and now Brooks' firing takes it a step further.

There will be more edginess in OKC next season no matter who the new coach is, but to maximize the opportunity, the Thunder need a shift in state.

That's the way it goes in the coaching business, where clubs almost invariably hire someone who is the opposite of the guy who wasn't getting the message across. It is true that organizations often need overhauls for more discipline after being too laid-back or more defense after focusing too much on offense.

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Balance is ideal, and as much as we hope every coach can inspire guys in ideal moderation, that's not realistic—and that's not what Brooks did. He was very good at some things, but he didn't make the most of Oklahoma City's offensive firepower, and the community he created wasn't all about excellence.

Even though Thibodeau hasn't won a championship in Chicago, he has validated his reputation as a relentless force and top strategist. His value as Doc Rivers' aide for the Boston Celtics' 2008 title was indisputable, and Thibodeau's own body of work would be a lot different if Derrick Rose could've stayed healthy.

Although the Bulls struggled with injuries again this season, Thibodeau helped revive Pau Gasol's career—and all the more so after getting Gasol back to protecting the rim again, it's mind-blowing to think what Thibodeau could do with someone with the upside of Serge Ibaka.

Gasol's decision to sign up under Thibodeau is apropos here. He might seem the kindly sort who would resist Thibodeau's fire, but Gasol appreciates being respectfully pushed. He needs to be, actually. He could've gone elsewhere as a free agent last summer, including Oklahoma City, but he chose to challenge himself with Thibodeau and the Bulls (and didn't much want to live in Oklahoma City).

University of Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't have Thibodeau's elaborate knowledge of the NBA game, but Donovan does have his own reputation of success via hard work. Expecting immediately to win the 2016 NBA title and thus lock Durant up with a rookie pro coach is risky, but Donovan has two NCAA titles and can fit the profile.

Like Steve Kerr, Donovan has plotted this jump for a long, long time—he backed out after accepting the Orlando Magic job in 2007 to stay at Florida—and has a legitimate idea of what he wants to do in the pros, even if it's not as simple as springing that 2-2-1 full-court press in college. Many in the NBA expect Donovan to bring a unique, let's-be-real, hard-truth approach for developing pro players to be more than before.

If the Thunder wind up with someone softer—a laissez-faire type such as Mark Jackson, Mike D'Antoni or Alvin Gentry—they won't be making the most of this opportunity to change their culture and their future.

In fact, one regret Thunder general manager Sam Presti should have right now is that he didn't make the bold move a year ago to hire Derek Fisher, beloved by Durant and eager to make the radical jump from Thunder teammate to Thunder coach. Fisher wanted to win right away as a new coach, an uncommonly possible option with the Thunder's talent, and he has a real understanding for the value of edgy atmosphere from those Lakers locker rooms with Kobe Bryant.

Certainly the Thunder now need to hire someone whom Durant will accept. But we already know that Durant getting along well with his coach isn't the problem.

Creating an environment where excellence is demanded, no matter if it's prickly at times to pursue, looms as the next step in Oklahoma City.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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