1. Brooks Booted: Putting aside the merits of the decision, Scott Brooks’ firing is most relevant to the Thunder for what it likely reveals. First, Kevin Durant will be a free agent after next season and there is no way the Thunder would have fired him without Durant’s blessing. It also reveals that Durant may not be totally happy with the Thunder and adding a new coach would be an attempt to placate/keep KD.
It is impossible to say exactly how likely it is that Durant will leave the Thunder after next season or what exactly he wants (is it a better team, a different coach, a larger market, or something else?). Still, the best way to keep Durant would be for the Thunder to win a title next season.
Can the Thunder find a coach in the open market that would improve their chances over retaining Brooks? Assuming everyone is healthy next season, there is no reason the Thunder can’t contend. The 2013-14 Thunder were among the top teams in the NBA. The question is whether a coach brought in from the outside gives OKC a better shot at winning than Brooks would. Unless the coach is a proven great coach (Pat Riley, Phil Jackson), adding a new coach is a complete wild card. In this case, OKC has been talking about bringing in Kevin Ollie or Billy Donovan, coaches who are good in college but have not ever coached in the NBA. They could be great options but at this point the Thunder are only guessing.
By comparison, Brooks is a known commodity. While some have criticized Brooks’ failure to have second/third options in playoff games in the past, OKC hasn’t really underachieved during his tenure. Check his results since the Thunder became a legitimate force in 2010-11:
-2010-11: 55-27, lost in the Conference Finals to Mavericks
-2011-12: 47-19, lost in NBA Finals to Heat
-2012-13: 60-22, lost in second round to Memphis (Westbrook injured knee in the previous series)
-2013-14: 59-23, lost in Conference Finals to Spurs
-2014-15: 45-37, missed playoffs
At the risk of oversimplifying Brooks’ record, it is hard to be too critical. In the three of the last five seasons, OKC has lost to the eventual NBA champ and, the other two seasons, major injuries killed their chances. Now, it is possible that the Thunder might’ve beaten some of these great teams with a different coach but nothing here indicates that Brooks is holding the team back.
So, it is likely that, at worst, Brooks is a neutral factor in OKC. Starting over with a new coach like a college coach is a high risk gamble, particularly from a conservative organization like the Thunder. All this tells us the Thunder feel that they have no choice but to go for broke or Durant may be gone. Yes, this is speculation on our part but the inference is quite reasonable. As for Brooks, he does get a bit of a raw deal but if the choice is between if possibly keeping Durant or not, this is an easy decision.
2. Intentional Fouling: Another issue that has come up this season is whether intentional fouling of players to put terrible free throw shooters on the line should be outlawed. The current rule allows a team to foul any player on the court (regardless of whether he is holding the ball) until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, at which fouling time an intentional foul of a player who does not have the ball allows the offensive team to retain possession after the foul shots.
In recently addressing the issue, Adam Silver said he was “on the fence” on the issue of changing the rule, noting that it is a “fascinating” strategy and that many legendary players said that learning to make free throws is “part of the game.” Silver did recognize that “it doesn’t make for great television.” That’s a balanced answer but I don’t think there should be any hedging. The answer is pretty clear to me. The strategy is so tedious to watch for the fan that it outweighs the counterarguments. My eureka moment on this issue was watching the Mavs intentionally foul Josh Smith in Game 1 of that playoff series only to have the Rockets immediately foul Rajon Rondo on the other end. A rule that could lead to an absurd free throw shooting contest would not be watchable and not in the best interests of the NBA.
Yes, players should be strong enough free throw shooters to make fouling them be an untenable strategy. But the fact is there are a few bad shooters and the hack strategy is tough to watch and breaks the game into a sideshow. It’s also not as if the NBA doesn’t change rules to benefit the viewer, even if the change can penalize talented players and teams.
The NBA has changed rules frequently to make the game more watchable. The three second rule exists because it was not scintillating to watch big men post up and not move for 24 seconds. No one is arguing now that the rule is unfair to defensive players who are not strong enough to stop big offensive players. Similarly, defensive rules are often altered to make the game more watchable (see, e.g., the “Charles Barkley/Mark Jackson” five-second rule, hand checking rules, and the changing zone defense rules).
Finally, the fact that the intentional foul is outlawed in the last two minutes of a game is really an admission that the strategy is not great for the game. The obvious solution would be to implement that rule the entire game. If DeAndre Jordan has the ball in the course of a play, you should feel free to whack him any time. Otherwise, let’s play a game that people actually want to watch.