Scott Brooks is entering the offseason with much to ponder. Although the Southern California sun beckons and the comfort of family awaits, Brooks, who lives in Newport Beach, will allow himself time to think about what happened during the 2018-19 season, his third as the Washington Wizards’ coach. The slow start, the absent defense, the 50 losses no one saw coming — no one can pinpoint how a veteran team could fall so far.
“As you go through an NBA season, you don’t have time to focus on the things that you need to reflect on and get better at,” Brooks said Wednesday. “That’s going to happen in the next two or three weeks.”
Within that time frame, majority owner Ted Leonsis could be close to hiring a new president of basketball operations to replace Ernie Grunfeld, who was fired April 2. . That change could be just the beginning.
Since Grunfeld’s dismissal, Brooks has answered variations of the same inquiry: Is your job safe? For his latest response, Brooks, who still has two years and $14 million guaranteed on his contract, did not offer a definitive statement, instead saying he’s “excited about moving forward” with the Wizards.
“I haven’t been told anything different,” Brooks said. “I’m not saying this in an arrogant way, but I worry about my job day-to-day. I don’t worry about my job long-term. I worry about doing my job today. If that’s good, I can do it again tomorrow.”
During his time in Washington, Brooks has maintained his reputation from Oklahoma City, encouraging stars to stand out. He has overseen Bradley Beal’s ascension into a potential all-NBA selection. Beal closed the season as the first player in franchise history to average at least 25 points, five assists and five rebounds (25.6, 5.5 and 5.0).
Brooks also led the organization to its best season in nearly four decades (2016-17), the same year John Wall earned his first all-NBA honor. But since that year, when the Wizards were fortunate to dodge injuries, individuals have developed but Brooks’s teams have regressed.
From 2016-17 to 2017-18, the Wizards saw a six-game decline as Wall missed half the season because of left knee surgery. The team barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed. This season, Washington never had a winning record and missed organizational goals of winning 50 games and improving on last year’s first-round exit.
Brooks tried desperate moves to stem the spiral. He broke from another trait that marked his Thunder days: a hesitancy to make lineup changes.
In late November, Brooks chastised himself for not giving a larger early-season role to backup point guard Tomas Satoransky, who started 30 games in 2017-18 and helped keep the team afloat for that playoff berth.
“I’m slow,” Brooks said at the time. “It took me 15 to 16 games to figure that out, but [Satoransky has] earned it with the way he’s playing.”
When center Dwight Howard left the team for spinal surgery in late November, Brooks looked past Ian Mahinmi and inserted raw second-year big man Thomas Bryant into the starting lineup. It paid off. By December, Brooks sent starter Markieff Morris to the second unit. As the season progressed, Brooks had no issue using some of the team’s newest additions — Sam Dekker, Ron Baker, Wesley Johnson — then benching them when he felt someone else could produce more.
Still, these rotation revisions never fully took root. The Wizards started the season 1-7 mostly because of poor defensive performances. By the regular season finale, in which the Wizards surrendered 116 points to a Boston Celtics team that sat its top seven players, they finished second to last in opponent points per game (116.9) and 28th overall in defensive rating (113.9).
“Our start was horrible,” Satoransky said. “I felt like we played better in the middle of season with some solid games, but like I told you, it was inconsistent. That’s always tough on you, when you can’t relax, just having a little break, feel comfortable with how you’re playing. But I think at the beginning of the year we didn’t play the way we wanted. Our defense, particularly there, was also a big issue moving forward all season.”
The defensive scheme could change, depending on how the roster shapes up in the offseason, but so could the coaches who implement the system. When asked about potential movement within his coaching staff, Brooks offered uncertainty.
“At this point, I don’t know. But everything is on the table,” Brooks said. “We have to, myself and my staff and I have to be — I have to evaluate just like Ted and our new person will evaluate, as well. But it’s a lot of things we have to look at, and everything is on the table.”