The consolation prize for Scott Brooks after the playoffs was being able to watch Kevin Durant, with his mother in tow, celebrate the NBA Finals MVP and championship trophy a few weeks ago. His Wizards, who fell in seven games of the East semifinals, had long been booted.
All Brooks could do was reminisce about his run with Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka that led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the cusp in 2012 only to end with a five-game loss in the Finals to the Miami Heat.
"I think about it a lot," Brooks said of his former team, which fired him after they missed the playoffs despite 45 wins in 2015, to CSNmidatlantic.com. "A lot of things happen. Tough trade (Harden to Houston), some bad fortune with injuries (to Durant) but those are all part of the game. ... Kevin and Russell and Harden were able to carry one of the youngest teams in the history of the game to the NBA Finals in 2012. We came up short three games but we got there. When you're there and you're that young you think you're going to go back again. It's human nature. Even as a coach you thought that this team is going to continue to grow. But a lot of strange things happen. A lot of things that you can't control."
Brooks led Washington to 49 wins and a No. 4 seed in the East. They had a legtimate shot to upset the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics but couldn't win a road game in the series.
If Brooks only could have similar success with John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington, where the franchise hasn't been to the conference or NBA Finals in four decades, that would make up for what he missed out on with Durant. His Golden State Warriors will be hard to topple but Brooks has four fully guaranteed years left on his deal. He has time to get it right.
"I spent eight seasons with (Durant) so I had a lot to do with his early development. I'm happy for him. I'm happy for his family. A good family. A great kid," Brooks said. "The thing I love about K.D. is he's the most humble superstar I've ever been around as a former player, as a coach I've never been around a guy so good that he really doesn't feel like he's one of the best players. He almost thinks of himself as a guy that's just trying to make the team. ... I would've loved to had the chance to coach him here but I'm happy for him to get the championship and to see his family happy. It was a good moment for all of us."
As a free agent a year ago, Durant didn't give his hometown Wizards a meeting before quickly deciding to sign with Golden State which has now won two of the last three NBA Finals.
It was a pipe dream for the Wizards to land him anyway, but what they could control is what happened in Game 2 vs. the Celtics. They hadn't won at TD Garden in three years and had Boston on the ropes. The score was 110-104 as Marcin Gortat missed the second of two free throws and then Isaiah Thomas came alive to bury Washington with big shots down the stretch to force overtime and end with 53 points.
"All I do is shake my head because all I think is we're up six, we miss a free throw so we could've been up seven with (2:43 left) and then we gave up two critical threes," Brooks said. "Both (defensive) mistakes. .. A couple breaks here and there we could've went to the (conference) finals."
The Wizards aren't at the level of his best Thunder teams, but at least they're heading in the right direction. This offseason will be crucial in whether or not they can keep building on it.