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Scott Brooks embraces 'cool experience' in his return to Oklahoma City

Scott Brooks embraces 'cool experience' in his return to Oklahoma City

Scott Brooks tried his best to put "coachspeak" aside Tuesday, before the Wizards leave to play a game at the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's where he coached for seven seasons until he was fired in 2015. 

"I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m not going to stand here and say it’s just one of 82 games, but it is one of 82 games," Brooks said with his team taking a three-game road trip that includes stops at the San Antonio Spurs and Brooklyn Nets. "I had great memories with that organization. I started off coaching a lot of young players that I really respect the work that they put in. We accomplished a lot as a group. We were one of the youngest teams in NBA history get to the NBA Finals. … We had a great run. Unfortunately that ended for me but that’s the business we’re in."

Except for the first season when Brooks took over, the Thunder always had a winning record. They won 50 games or more four times and two seasons there were exceptions. In 2012 when they made the NBA Finals, it was a 66-game season because of the lockout. The Thunder won 47. In his final season, Brooks had injuries to his All-Stars Russell Westbrook (15 games missed) and Kevin Durant (55). They still won 45 games but missed the postseason.

When Brooks got the bad news from GM Sam Presti, he was at his home in Newport Beach, Calif. He never properly said goodbye. He spent the 2015-16 season out of the NBA.

"I’ve been cut a lot of times as a player. I’ve fought back and made teams. In coaching it’s a different animal," said Brooks, who has the Wizards out to a 6-10 start. "When you get fired, I was in California. I didn’t get a chance to see the people that meant so much to me and so much to our success as a team. I get to see a lot of them when I go back. Even the ushers, to see Betty, Dean, Coach, Anna, those are the people that behind the scenes make your organization work.

"It’s going to be a cool experience. Don’t know how they’re going to respond. I know the people. The people in Oklahoma City are phenomenal. I’ve learned so much about myself during that time. Now I even follow college football. Never did that. OU, OSU football is important there."

While Brooks insisted that he communicates with everyone he came in contact with at Oklahoma City, even those who have gone on to other organizations, he has spoken "very little" with Presti. 

He was replaced by Billy Donovan who left the University of Florida and led the Thunder to the conference finals last season. James Harden left long ago. Then it was Brooks and this summer Durant exited. 

There's a good chance Brooks' return is received best. They won 62% of their games with him (338-207). 

"That’s a little ambitious," he said, "if I’m thinking they’re going to give me an ovation."

[RELATED: KELLY OUBRE PUTS IN WELL-ROUNDED GAME VS. KINGS]

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Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Shortly before his team took on the New York Knicks in a global showcase game in London, England on Thursday, Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis addressed reporters and dropped a line that created a swift and strong reaction on social media.

When discussing the state of his team, Leonsis said in no uncertain terms that the goal this season is to make the playoffs. He has no interest in looking towards the draft lottery, despite the desires of some fans who have visions of Zion Williamson throwing down lobs from John Wall.

"We will never, ever tank," Leonsis told reporters.

That quote seems like one that will be revisited periodically in the next several years. But, like all quotes, it requires some context. 

What Leonsis went on to explain is that his franchise is not in a position to lose on purpose. They have too much talent, even with injuries to Wall, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris, to pack it in and look towards next year. They also have too much money committed with what currently ranks as the seventh-highest payroll in basketball. They already went through a rebuild, he said, and it's not time yet to go through another one.

In many ways, what Leonsis said was not surprising at all. The Wizards have been in win-now mode for several years. Anyone paying attention to their personnel moves should understand that.

Take the trade for Trevor Ariza in December, for instance. Though some speculated that was about trading for a guy who could be dealt elsewhere months later, that was never the Wizards' intention, according to people familiar with their plans. Getting Ariza was about improving the defense and retooling their locker room culture. It was about making the playoffs this spring.

Leonsis' comments should make the Wizards' plans for the Feb. 7 trade deadline a bit easier to ascertain. The goal to make the playoffs doesn't necessarily mean they will be buyers, but it strongly suggests they won't be sellers. They are only two games out of a playoff spot in the still-pedestrian Eastern Conference with 37 games left to play. After winning six of nine, the playoffs are a realistic goal.

That still won't assuage the Wizards fans out there pining for them to make the long-term play, of course. And there is an argument to be made that their future would be better off if they take a step back this season to take two steps forward the next. If they tanked and got a top draft pick, it could help them immensely down the road if that player becomes another franchise cornerstone.

But, as Leonsis argues, gunning for top draft picks can be unpredictable. People often cite the Sixers as a tanking success story, and their future does appear to be bright. 

But the Sixers are an exception to the rule, as tanking is by no means a fool-proof strategy, even in long-term rebuilds. Teams go years and years without luck in the draft. Just look at the Sacramento Kings.

Or, you could look at the Wizards, one of the least successful franchises in the NBA historically. Only five NBA teams have a worse winning percentage all-time than the Wizards, who have been around for 58 years. They haven't won 50 games or reached the conference finals since the 1970s.

If the Wizards were to make the playoffs this season, that would be five times in six years, arguably their best stretch of postseason success since the 70s. Consider the fact they made the playoffs just once from 1988 to 2004.

Sure, the Wizards should set their sights higher than losing in the first or second round, but there is something to be said about stability for a team that hasn't really had it since the Carter administration. And there is also something to be said about trying to build on what they have, rather than tearing it down and starting over.

It's not easy to go from middle of the road to great, but other teams have done it. In fact, most of the top teams in today's NBA didn't get there by tanking. 

The Rockets made trades for James Harden and Chris Paul and drafted Clint Capela 25th overall. The Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick.

The Bucks got Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in trades and Malcolm Brogdon with a second round selection. The Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round and got Gary Harris with a trade for the 19th pick.

The Warriors, though they had some lean years before their meteoric rise, basically built their team without any really high draft picks. They took Stephen Curry seventh, but also got Klay Thompson 11th and Draymond Green in the second round.

What Leonsis hopes to happen is a parallel to his Washington Capitals of the NHL. When it appeared they had hit a wall, some minor changes helped them break through to win a Stanley Cup in 2018.

The NBA is different, and the Wizards aren't a few small tweaks from toppling the Warriors, but perhaps Leonsis' patience will pay off. Maybe the Wizards will get a healthy version of Wall back, and the ascension of Beal and Porter will lead to them winning 50 games or going to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.

There are fans out there who want dramatic changes. They want more than a first round playoff exit. Leonsis, of course, does as well, but he believes staying the course is the best path forward to getting there. Only time will tell if he's right.

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    Thomas Bryant's game-winner came on a play Scott Brooks once used to beat the Wizards

    Thomas Bryant's game-winner came on a play Scott Brooks once used to beat the Wizards

    The Wizards won their game in London against the Knicks Thursday in bizarre fashion, the game-winner coming via a goaltending call on a Thomas Bryant shot attempt in the paint.

    And according to Bradley Beal, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has called the play Bryant "scored" on before...to beat the Wizards in 2015. 

    "It's crazy. I remember Coach drew that up against us when he was in OKC," Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. 

    On Jan. 21, 2015, when Brooks was still the head coach of the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored a layup with one second left in overtime to give Oklahoma City a 105-103 victory over Washington. 

    (Watch the video above to see a side-by-side comparison of Westbrook's basket and Bryant's game-winner.)

    Fast forward to Jan. 17, 2019, and the play succeeded again, but this time for the Wizards. However, it went quite differently the second time around. 

    "Russ started (in the backcourt), got a full head of steam on me and laid the ball up to win the game," Beal said. "And it was pretty much the same situation, but I ended up slipping. And I just thank God (Bryant) actually played the game of basketball and rolled to the basket. And I just had to trust him to be able to make the right play."

    And even though the ball didn't go through the hoop, Bryant ultimately made the right play to give the Wizards a hard-fought, comeback win across the pond.

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