On Tuesday, the NBA named Scott Brooks the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month for leading Washington to a 12-5 record in April. Not even a full 24 hours later, the Wizards’ coach popped up in rumors that he was on the hot seat.
That’s the life of a coach in a nutshell.
“Those things, I don’t really pay much attention to,” Brooks said. “Either one.”
In the short term, Brooks has more to focus on than his job status with only six games left after Wednesday’s contest in Milwaukee. The Wizards, after all, want to keep their momentum to make the play-in tournament and earn a playoff berth.
But the Wizards’ surge also puts the franchise in a precarious spot: Brooks is in the last year of his contract, and Washington will have to decide whether to part ways or offer him a new deal. The Athletic reported Wednesday that Brooks could still lose his job because “there was a playoff mandate of sorts for Brooks” — and it’s unclear whether only making the play-in tournament would satisfy ownership.
For months, the matter looked like it was going to be an easy decision for the Wizards. But Brooks has Washington rolling now in a manner few expected.
The Wizards won 13 of 16 going into Wednesday’s showdown with the Bucks, a run that can be partially credited to Brooks. Brooks has found success with an unconventional three-center lineup, using Alex Len, Robin Lopez and Daniel Gafford. Stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook are also performing at an elite level, and Brooks arguably deserves credit for running an offense that gets the best out of both.
Still, owner Ted Leonsis will likely be the one making the final call. The Athletic reported “questions swirl” regarding general manager Tommy Sheppard’s job, as well. Remember, Leonsis has moved on from coaches even coming off great success. Leonsis’ Washington Capitals let Barry Trotz out of his contract just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup because they couldn’t agree on an extension. And since Leonsis bought the Wizards in 2010, only one of the team’s three head coaches — Randy Wittman — received a second contract.
Brooks’ coach of the month award, obviously, isn’t an indicator on what the Wizards might do. Even if Brooks somehow won coach of the year — he won’t — that wouldn’t automatically guarantee his return. The Toronto Raptors in 2018 and the Denver Nuggets in 2013 fired their coaches — Dwayne Casey and George Karl — despite them winning the award that same year.
Brooks is already the Wizards’ longest-tenured coach under Leonsis. And unless the Wizards (30-35) finish above .500, this will be Brooks’ third straight losing season. Leonsis reportedly paid Brooks handsomely with a five-year, $35 million contract, and so far, that’s resulted in only two playoff series wins.
Brooks’ teams, too, have always struggled to be consistent. This season can partially be attributed to factors outside of Brooks’ control — the COVID-19 pause, the injuries. But before this recent run, the Wizards frustratingly played down to the level sub-.500 teams, only to play well against contenders — a constant theme of Brooks’ tenure.
There are those in Brooks’ corner. Notably, Westbrook, who also spent seven years in Oklahoma City under Brooks, is a staunch supporter of the coach — and even advocated for him unannounced back in February, when the Wizards first showed signs of life that a turnaround was possible.
“We’ve gotta give a lot of credit to Coach Brooks. He doesn’t get enough credit,” Westbrook said. “When we lose, they always look at the head coach. When we win, they don’t give him a lot of credit. But he’s doing a hell of a job making sure that we are playing the best we can play and putting us in position to be great.”
Will Westbrook’s opinion influence the choice to bring back Brooks? The former MVP is under contract for $44.2 million next season and holds a $47 million player option for 2022-23. And the Wizards have maintained they bounce major decisions off their stars.
Whatever the Wizards decide, the choice will undoubtedly matter. Beal can enter the last year of his contract next season, as he also has a player option for 2022-23. Beal has repeatedly said he wants to stay with the franchise, but there will be pressure on the Wizards to get the most out of Beal and Westbrook in a pivotal year.
The pressure, however, is already there for Brooks.
“If I’m on the hot seat, it doesn’t bother me,” Brooks said. “My mother, rest her soul, she taught me a lot of good important life lessons: The negativity is not something I feed.”