On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, Scott Brooks will for the first time in his coaching career be on the opposite bench of Kevin Durant, a former MVP and Brooks' best player during the seven years he coached the Oklahoma City Thunder. It is not an enviable task coaching, against Durant. Brooks knows what he is capable of and is looking forward to the challenge.
Well, sort of.
"You have to hope that Coach [Steve] Kerr will sit him out. That's a good start. They have three in four nights coming up, so I think he should rest," Brooks joked ahead of the Wizards' matchup with the Warriors [6:30 p.m. on CSN].
In all seriousness, Brooks will enjoy catching up with Durant. The two have remained in touch ever since Brooks was fired by OKC following the 2014-15 season.
"We text throughout the season. I don't know if that's illegal. I just lost some money, I guess," Brooks said with a smile. "It's just 'how are you doing Kevin, how's the family?' That's it. We went through a lot together and I appreciate what he's gone through and the way he's always handled himself... I've been with him through some very tough times. We've had some great moments together. Conference finals after conference finals, the NBA Finals while being a young team, his MVP year; we've just had so many moments. He's just a great person."
It's easy to tell that Brooks admires the man Durant has become. Brooks has known the eight-time All-Star ever since his rookie year when he was just 19 years old and playing for the Seattle Supersonics. In the 10 years since, he's watched Durant grow up, deal with both success and failure, and then ultimately make the decision to leave Oklahoma City in free agency. All of that came after a rough childhood growing up in Prince George's County in Maryland.
"I like the progress that he's made as a man. We all saw a young man grow up in front of our eyes and not only meet all the expectations, but he's overcome a lot. I know his story as a child with his mom and grandma, they did a great job of instilling important values that are going to continue to carry him throughout his life. I feel like I was a part of helping raise him as a good pro. That's what you want to do as a coach is teach these guys how to be pros. That's to me the No. 1 job as a coach," Brooks explained.
"You have to understand that they are going through some trying times and you have to understand how to help them through it. Get them through it and also understand that when you do get through it, and when you have some success, how do you handle that? The thing I like is how he handed it when he got through it. He was the MVP and the next day you would have never known. You would have never known he was MVP. You could probably not talk to me this day if I won MVP."
On Monday at Wizards practice, Brooks recalled the early days of Durant in Seattle and OKC, how he was just a kid who couldn't bench press 200 pounds and never washed his face.
"The talk [before the draft] was that he wasn't strong enough. That's [so] overrated… I don't know if every team does that, the bench press. If we are in the strongman competition, then you don't want Kevin on your team, but the ball is not that heavy. He can pick that up pretty good. I knew he was a natural. He's just a natural talent. He just had a good feel for the game. The thing that really stood out was his work ethic. That guy, it just doesn't happen overnight. He didn't become MVP overnight. He didn't become one of the best players overnight. He's put a lot of time and work in. I was fortunate enough to be around him for seven years," Brooks said.
"He's going to go down as one of the best players ever. But the thing that [Golden State] didn't realize they were getting is a great guy and a great teammate. That takes you a lot longer down the road than just having a great player. He's as good as advertised off the court... they got an incredible person that always wants to do the right thing. Sometimes it's not easy to do the right thing, but he doesn't choose the easy path. He goes down the path that you would be proud of."