Thunder brass have begun to have internal discussions with other candidates — including Jeff Van Gundy and Phil Jackson — should they be unable to reach an agreement with Brooks, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
Still, the candidate who makes the most sense is the man the Thunder already have, and Oklahoma City would be wise to lock up Brooks even if it means committing an extra year or a little more money.
Since taking over Oklahoma City midway through the 2008-09 season, Brooks has led the team to a 174-125 record and three playoff appearances. The Thunder's win percentage has improved during every season of Brooks' tenure, as has their playoff outcome — from a first-round exit in 2010 to a loss in the conference finals in 2011 to this year's Finals defeat to the Heat. Each of those times, the Thunder was eliminated by the eventual NBA champion. It doesn't make sense for the Thunder not to bring back Brooks and risk destroying the close-knit atmosphere general manager Sam Presti has spent the past five years cultivating.
Brooks is not a tactical genius like the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau, but he has done an admirable job managing one of the league's youngest rosters and his four key players — Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka — none of whom are older than 23. In particular, Brooks has helped diffuse the potential Durant-Westbrook feud that threatened to derail the team, and now both players appear to be pulling in the same direction on the court.
Brooks has, at times, been criticized for his substitution patterns, notably benching Westbrook during entire the fourth quarter of Game 2 of last year's Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks and again drawing criticism for sending Westbrook to the bench during a key third quarter stretch in Game 3 of this year's Finals against the Heat. But there is a method to his madness: The Thunder won that game against the Mavericks — their only victory of the series — on the strength of their bench play in the fourth quarter. In that case, Brooks decided to stick with what was working, and he was rewarded for it.
Many in the media also spoke out about Brooks during the Thunder's Western Conference Finals encounter with the Spurs this year, arguing that he played the plodding Kendrick Perkins too much against San Antonio's faster big men, among other lineup missteps. Brooks once again silenced his critics, as the Thunder adjusted their strategy after losses in Games 1 and 2, putting ace defender Thabo Sefolosha on Spurs point guard Tony Parker and switching defenders on Spurs pick and rolls. The result was four straight victories against a team that hadn't lost previously for a month and a half.
Brooks may still lack the in-game tactical chops of someone like Gregg Popovich, but on a team with as much young talent at the Thunder, he doesn't have to do too much to be successful. His biggest task will be managing egos and ensuring that the team continues to play hard, two things he's been pretty good at over the past four years. Although the potential for disaster lurks beneath the surface with Westbrook, Brooks has defended his point guard's style of play, and the two look ready to move forward. That's the best way to approach a guy like Westbrook who, although prone to the occasional bad decision, more than makes up for it with his athleticism and playmaking abilities.
Although the Thunder were outclassed by the Heat, you can't blame Brooks for failing to stop the NBA's most dominant player from delivering a virtuoso performance in the NBA Finals. Oklahoma City will be plenty motivated next season, and it must be restated that Brooks has improved his team's playoff outcome in each of his three full seasons. After losing in the NBA Finals, there's only one more step to take. It would be foolish to bring in anyone else and threaten that progress.