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Clark Matthews: Who the Thunder shoulda woulda coulda hired instead of Billy Donovan

billy donovan clark matthews

Editor’s Note: 

This Billy Donovan news is such a big deal that it woke up Clark Matthews!

Last night, TLO co-founder, Eddie Sutton autograph tramp stamp tattoo wearer and overall basketball junkie Clark Matthews folded up the old checkers board and filed this post about Billy Donovan joining the Oklahoma City Thunder. Specifically, he looks at who the Thunder shoulda coulda woulda hired as a head coach instead.

After several days of being on the verge, the Thunder sealed the deal with new head coach Billy Donovan. As every article about the hire will say, Donovan–a disciple of Louisville’s Rick Pitino–coached at the University of Florida for 19 seasons, winning two national championships among the four Final Four appearances. Nice, right?

He also lead the team to a sub-.500 record that disqualified them from the post season during the Gators’ most recent season. So, in the “what have you done lately?” metric, Donovan is even less impressive than the departed Scott Brooks in that his failure to make the playoffs was despite a winning record, much tougher competition (he coached in the NBA), and a plethora of injuries that left him making line ups out of bailing wire and Lance Thomas.

As Thunder GM Sam Presti has maintained throughout the process, though, nothing that happened in the past year matters. If so, Coach Brooks would get another season puzzling out end of game playcalling like Patrick figuring out his drink order at a restaurant without a bar. Brooks likely did his best work as a head coach since his Coach of the Year campaign right before getting the axe. It’s just business. His contract had left him as a lame duck manager going into what could be the most important season in franchise history, and without that status, there was evidence he had lost leverage with his players.

Rather than commit to the tenured Brooks, Presti chose to go in a different direction and zeroed in on Donovan. Even throwing out Florida’s struggles in the most recent season, the choice can be controversial. Brooks’ replacement has to make an impact in year one and that means getting the team’s core to buy in to his system (even Phil Jackson would have trouble convincing Russ to be anything slightly different than Russ), keep the stars happy in the run up to their impending free agency, and return to the success that was taken for granted 12 months ago. Any failure in any of those goals could spell a complete overhaul of the team and years of re-building while praying for another elite talent like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook to be available to OKC in the draft.

Success with those high stakes will be lead by a rookie coach with no professional coaching experience. Not. Optimal. Donovan has spent the past twenty years dealing with college kids who made roughly zero percent of the salary of him. Getting the players to follow his instructions will come with increased difficulty when he cannot threaten to pull their scholarship, and the player has infinitely more NBA exposure.

This is not to say Donovan will not meet the challenge. I believe (hope? pray?) he will be the coach this team needs. His record with the Gators proves he knows how to win, and those national championships were earned using the collegiate level superstar talent. He even convince Joakim Noah (now of the Bulls), Al Horford (Hawks), and Corey Brewer (somewhere in the NBA) to delay their million dollar paydays to make that second title run…and that was a tough sell considering how garbage the draft class was. This tells me he can build strong relationships with players and manage egos.

That said, it’s worth looking at the road not taken. Who could the Thunder have hired instead?

Pictorial: Scott Brooks’ 10 Greatest Moments with the OKC Thunder…

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat

It’s been a little less than 24-hours since we discovered Scott Brooks was fired as the head coach of the Thunder and I’m still hearing Handel’s music in my ears.

It really is that glorious.

Once again, Brooks isn’t a bad NBA coach. He was a great with most players, was a solid company man and had high character. He was just no longer the right fit for the franchise. Some guy named Sam Presti confirmed this in a press conference:

“Change in organizations are necessary at times. As much as continuity is required for lasting success, change and transition are the engine for progress and evolution. And so we’re embracing that change and looking toward the next stage of our development of our organization in Oklahoma City.”

It must be nice to be Sam Presti. If the whole NBA general manager thing doesn’t work out, he can always turn to a career in politics or writing fortune cookies.

Even though I see why OKC is making this change, it’s still sad to see Scott Brooks go. For one, he is a really good guy. Three or four years ago, I saw him at the Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt on N. May. Somehow I ended up behind him in the toppings bar. After putting on a few blueberries, he was sprinkling some chopped nuts over his FroYo when he turned to me, giggled and said:

“What do you call nuts on your chin?”

Surprised and very flustered, I blurted out “What?”

“A dick in your mouth,” he then paused for a few seconds, let out a smile and said “Haha! Just kidding, buddy. Scale up! Your frozen yogurt is on me.”

It was a strange moment indeed, but the fact that Scott Brooks bought my frozen yogurt shows what a good guy he is. He was really nice. I can see how he relates to his players so well and why they admire and respect him.

Anyway, to pay tribute to Scott, I thought it would be nice to take a look back at some pics that represent Scott’s finest moments as a coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder:

scott brooks

1.  The day Sam Presti finally got him a new Etch-A-Sketch to draw up plays…

Before this advancement, he used watercolors and parchment to draw up those last-second desperation threes.


2. When he showed off his karate skills during a halftime show…

I think this happened during the first season on a Tuesday night game against the Timberwolves.


3. That time he killed the terrorists who took his daughter hostage…

He is a badass.

Scott Brooks was fired!!!!!!!!! Awesome!!!!


Dreams do come true!

Farewell, jokes about Liam Neeson. Good bye, Etch-A-Sketch used to draw-up out-of-bounds plays.

Scott Brooks is out as the coach of Oklahoma City Thunder. Earlier today, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news on Twitter:

Here was my immediate reaction:

Kevin Durant wants everyone to forget about the James Harden trade. If only it were that easy.

james harden trade

First of all, sorry about posting that picture. That’s a shitty thing to do on a Monday following a tough Thunder loss. If you want to watch this video a few hundred times while moaning “Why! Why!! Whyyyyyyyy!!!” as tears roll down your face like the lady crying behind Kevin Durant as he hugged his family at the end of the 2012 NBA Western Conference Finals, I don’t blame you.

I’m not posting the pic because I’m mean. I’m doing it because the James Harden Trade (a.k.a. the worst moment in Oklahoma City sports history) came back to life yesterday. This was due to the Rockets visiting the Peake for an Easter matinee and this ridiculous Darnell Mayberry article that lists some reasons why the trade “will never die.”

The article, which reads like a “branded news” piece purchased by The Thunder Ministry of Propaganda, caught the eye of Bill Simmons:

Bill has a point. The Thunder did not have to trade Harden when they did. They could have let him play the season out on his rookie contract and then either signed him as a RFA or traded him after the season. They also could have just done the right thing and signed the Beard to the max deal he deserved, named him a starter, and gone to war with a Durant – Westbrook – Harden triumvirate. Wouldn’t that have been nice? You could have put them on the court with Renzi Stone and Tim Heskett and named Travis Ford their coach and they still would have won 60-games and multiple titles. I guess it made too much sense.

Simmons followed that observation with a series of “facts” about the trade. This caught the eye of Kevin Durant. He had a simple four word message for the self-proclaimed Sports Guy:

Grantland took a look at the Thunder Ministry of Propaganda…

tramel westbrook

On Friday afternoon while you were watching your NCAA tournament bracket go up in flames, Grantland released a fascinating look into our local media’s strained relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder and its players.

In particular, the article spends a lot of time focusing on the Tramel / Westbrook “feud” from January. You know, the one where Russ said out loud what thousands of Oklahomans have said to themselves while reading Berry Tramel columns over the years: “I don’t like you.”

In a way, Berry Tramel is the protagonist of the Grantland story. He, along with several other members of the local media, were interviewed by Grantland staff writer Bryan Curtis:

A few weeks ago, I met Tramel in a diner in downtown Oklahoma City. A tall, thin, gray-haired man, Tramel has covered sports in the city for 37 years. “I’m a lifer,” he said with happy resignation. He was looking at me over the rims of his glasses. Anyone who has shared a press box with Tramel can tell you this is his signature gesture.

That was the funny thing about Tramel’s conflict with Westbrook. He and Westbrook weren’t mad at each other. Never had been, really. They didn’t even know each other, despite sharing a locker room for seven years. “I could have been from Syracuse for the way he acted,” Tramel said. “[But] that’s not really Russ’s fault, I don’t think. I think the culture created that.” By “culture,” he meant the invisible handcheck that pushes reporters away from athletes. The disconnect that permeates monthly YouTube clips starring Westbrook or Marshawn Lynch or Phil Kessel. What created such a culture? Follow me, if you will, into the Thunder locker room …

When I read “culture,” I figured Berry was referring to the Thunder Ministry of Propaganda. That’s the name we coined a few years back for the powerful communications wing of the franchise. The Ministry’s goal is to control and influence the minds of the people (Thunder fans) through its own state controlled media (Fox Sports Oklahoma) and a constant barrage of corporate propaganda.

Just try watching a Thunder game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. You’ll never hear anything critical about the Thunder or see a highlight from an opposing team or player. It’s like they refuse to acknowledge that the other team exists or let the game take on its own narrative. For example, some dude from the Timberwolves could unleash a double 360, behind the head, SportCenter Top 10 dunk on, say, Andre Roberson and Fox Sports Oklahoma will not show a replay. They’ll just ignore what happened and talk about Roberson’s tough defense and effort.

The Ministry really shows its power inside the Peake. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m at an NBA game or inside a dystopian young adult fiction novel. You think that artificial “O-K-C” chant gets old on TV? Imagine having a Stormchaser in your section demanding you clap along when the Thunder are up 15 against the Bobcats in the 3rd. Just leave me alone and let me watch the game, and while you’re at it, buy a scoreboard that only shows player stats. Actually, disregard that request. The scoreboard would probably just show how many charges the players take in a game or keep a running tally of how much money they donate to charity.

Anyway, what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, the Grantland article. Thanks to it, we now get to see how the franchise treats, respects and interacts with the free press that’s supposed to provide the fans some fair and balanced coverage of the team.

Here are some notes..

I thought this moment between Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Darnell Mayberry was kind of funny: