The Oklahoma City Thunder were unable to take the final step this year, but seem poised to have a chance to do so for years to come. Questions have arisen about keeping James Harden and Serge Ibaka, and certainly everyone hopes that will be a possibility. However, first thing is first, will Scott Brooks remain the Thunder head coach?
It seems Scotty wants to come back, and it also seems that Sam Presti wants to bring him back. As of right now the only issue seems to be contract length, as Brooks wants at least four years, while Presti and co. would rather keep the deal to two or three years. Thunder players seem to want Brooks to be the coach, and rightfully so. He’s grown alongside this young team, and would likely continue to do so. Thunder fans, well most of them, would also like to see Brooks back on the Thunder bench. However, if the Thunder organization can’t work out a deal with Brooks, another solution must be found.
This of course is worst-case scenario, but it is worth addressing because it is entirely possible. Rumors have swirled, thanks in large part to ESPN’s Marc Stein, that the Thunder organization would consider Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy for the position. It would be hard to argue against Phil Jackson; his resume speaks for itself. Van Gundy’s resume isn’t too shabby either, but he’s no Zen Master. These could both be good options, but I ask you: why not promote someone who is already on the Thunder bench? Why not consider Maurice Cheeks?
Sure, his coaching resume isn’t as impressive as either of the two candidates above, but his influence on the Thunder team is pretty clear. A former NBA champion point guard like Brooks, Cheeks has clearly contributed to the molding of Russell Westbrook, a player that the Thunder would undoubtedly be lost without. He seems to be good at calming Russell down, and goes back and forth with Brooks all game, likely discussing matchups and adjustments; you know, head coach type stuff.
Cheeks was the head coach for the Portland Trailblazers and Philadelphia 76ers before landing his assistant coaching job with the Thunder. He spent three seasons with each, and was fired in the fourth season of both gigs. He made the playoffs twice with Portland, and once with Philadelphia, but never made it out of the first round. His overall record was slightly under .500 (284-286). These relatively unimpressive stints are probably the big reason that he hasn’t been mentioned as a candidate for the job.
He’s been with the Thunder since 2009, and seems to be Scotty’s right hand man. Perhaps the most important factor is that he knows this team, and they know him. This is something that should always be considered when searching for a head coach. Brooks got his job after being an assistant, so why would Cheeks not be given a chance? Sure he’s never had huge success as a head coach, but he’s also never been the head coach of such a talented team. Both teams he coached had some talented players, but neither team was as powerful and dangerous as this young Thunder squad. I say, if Brooks is going to be on his way out, that Cheeks should be given a look just as much as anyone else.
For one thing, I don’t see Jackson taking a coaching job right now; although the Thunder position is certainly more attractive than the Knicks job he recently showed no interest in. I also think of Phil Jackson as the type of guy who saves a team, but that’s not the Thunder’s situation at all. This team is on its way up, not on its way down or stuck in the middle. Van Gundy has shown he can be successful, but I don’t see him getting along with some of our players, especially Westbrook (he mismanaged Steve Francis, who was a similar player to Russ). I also just don’t like his attitude, and don’t see it as a great fit for this team. Cheeks knows the Thunder players, knows their strengths and weaknesses, and knows the way they need to play to win. He’s been with the team for three straight years, and has undoubtedly been part of their improvements. Don’t consider his head coach resume so much as you consider is presence on this Thunder basketball team. So, why doesn’t he deserve a chance?
Certainly all of this will be irrelevant if Scott Brooks returns as the Thunder head coach, which is definitely what everyone should hope for. In fact, if I had to make a prediction I’d say Brooks will be the Thunder’s ring master once again. However, if something goes awry with those negotiations, I say Cheeks should be considered.
This was written by Ryan Querbach. Ryan Freelances for the Oklahoma Gazette, loves the Thunder and the St. Louis Cardinals. You can reach Ryan at @ryanquerbach