The Washington Wizards were one of the most disappointing teams in the league during the 2015-16 NBA season. Now, they have a new head coach to lead them going forward.
The Wizards agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with Scott Brooks, who was reportedly the only target on Washington’s wish list. Yesterday, general manager Ernie Grunfeld flew to California to meet with Brooks and the two sides had agreed to a deal within 24 hours.
Brooks, who is 50 years old, previously coached the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons. During his stint in Oklahoma City, Brooks compiled a 338-207 regular-season record and 39-34 playoff record including a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference Finals. Brooks and his staff helped developed the team’s young talent, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson among others.
Brooks was the winner of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2010. He is the third-winningest coach in the combined history of the Thunder and Seattle SuperSonics, trailing only Lenny Wilkens and George Karl.
Entering the year, just about everyone expected the Wizards to build on last year’s campaign that saw Washington win 46 games and nearly advance to the Eastern Conference Finals before injuries helped the Atlanta Hawks overcome a 1-2 deficit.
In addition to entering the season with momentum, Washington added a number of veterans to bolster their rotation including Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal last summer and then Markieff Morris, Marcus Thornton and J.J. Hickson in midseason moves.
To get an idea of how high expectations were entering this season, here’s what John Wall told Basketball Insiders in October when asked about the Wizards’ goals for the 2015-16 season: “A good year is 50-plus wins, getting home-court advantage in the playoffs and definitely making the Eastern Conference Finals to give ourselves a shot at the Finals.”
Instead, the Wizards missed the playoffs after finishing the season with a 41-41 record, putting them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Washington ranked 19th in the NBA in offense (scoring 102.9 points per 100 possessions) and ranked 14th in the NBA in defense (allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions). Just one year prior, the Wizards had a top-five defense.
The team’s struggles led to the firing of head coach Randy Wittman on April 13, 2016 once the team missed the postseason. Wittman was on the hot seat for much of the season since many believed the team wasn’t playing up to their full potential.
While this is likely true, it is worth noting that Bradley Beal appeared in just 55 games this season (and started only 35) and a number of other players missed five or more games due to various injuries including Wall, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter and Nene among others.
There’s no question that this past season was a breakout year for Wall, as he averaged 19.9 points, 10.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He also improved his three-point shooting, hitting 35.1 percent of his shots from long range on 4.3 attempts per game (both of which were career-highs).
It’ll be interesting to see how Brooks helps the Wizards get back on track after this let-down season. In Oklahoma City, Brooks developed a reputation as a players’ coach who did a terrific job getting everyone to buy-in while creating a winning culture.
A number of players, including Durant and Westbrook, were initially upset to see him leave even though many people felt that the Thunder had stagnated and needed a new sideline general to better lead their star-studded roster.
One thing that has repeatedly been mentioned in regards to Brooks is whether he could help a team’s recruitment of Durant. There’s no denying that the two had a close relationship that dates back to Durant’s first season in the NBA. He was initially an assistant on P.J. Carlesimo’s staff in Seattle and then became the interim (and then full-time) head coach when Carlesimo was fired. The Wizards have made it no secret that they’re going to pursue Durant, a hometown star, this summer when he is an unrestricted free agent and they likely feel Brooks can help them as they make their pitch.
The Wizards have just $45,091,855 in guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, meaning they could have approximately $47 million in cap space entering the offseason. A large portion of this will very likely go toward re-signing Beal, who is set to become a restricted free agent, but the team still has plenty of money to spend.
As previously mentioned, Brooks did a very good job helping Oklahoma City’s young players develop. The Wizards will only go as far as Wall (25 years old) and Beal (22 years old) take them and Brooks could help them take their games to the next level. Other young players in Washington include recent first-round picks Porter (22) and Kelly Oubre (20).
Tom Thibodeau, who joined the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday, and Brooks were widely regarded as two of the best coaches on the market so it’s no surprise to see them snatched up this quickly. We’ll see if both men can help their teams turn the corner and compete at a higher level, starting with next season.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.