WASHINGTON – In today’s NBA, the term player’s coach is a positive. It’s a coach who understands the players and what they go through. It’s also a coach who is upfront with his players, who pushes when necessary and eases up when necessary.
"He is going to let you know what it is and how it goes,” Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris said of his coach Scott Brooks. “Me and him have had arguments before – at halftime, after games, video sessions. It happens. You gain more respect for coaches when they call you out in front of the team. He’ll tell you what he thinks. He’ll ask you what you think he can do better for you. That’s a player’s coach.”
Said Brooks: “That’s one of the most important qualities as a head coach – being able to connect with your players, and I take pride in connecting with our players. I’m not here to be their friend. I’m here to be their coach. I respect their job, and I expect them to respect my job.
“When you have a good relationship with the players and they know you have their best interest, you can challenge them in ways that if you don’t have their respect or best interest, it’s not going to happen.”
In his first season with the Wizards, Brooks connected, leading the team to a division title and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. He’s on a short list of coach of the year candidates.
But it’s not just the wins. It’s the transformation of players. Guard John Wall turned into an All-NBA performer, guard Brad Beal is on the verge of All-Star status and Brooks eased whatever friction existed between his backcourt stars.
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Otto Porter Jr. emerged as a go-to three-pointer shooter and reliable defender, and Kelly Oubre turned into a valuable reserve. The bench improved as the season progressed.
Brooks, who was dismissed by Oklahoma City following the 2014-15 season, transformed the team, too, from a squad that went as far as it could go with former coach Randy Wittman to a team that can reach the Eastern Conference finals and perhaps the finals.
It didn’t look like it, though, in Brooks’ first two weeks of the regular season. The Wizards started 3-9.
“I’m saying to myself, ‘Why? I was happy last year doing nothing. What am I getting myself into?’ Brooks said. “Oklahoma City paid me for not doing anything. I liked that job better.”
Brooks didn’t panic. He wasn’t even that worried, and since Dec. 1, the Wizards have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“The thing I was most excited about was during that tough start is that not one person pointed the finger. That’s what I was looking for,” Brooks said. “I knew the talent that we had and the work they were putting in, if they had the right approach mentally, we had a chance to get out of it.
“It comes down to players. They make it work. There’s not a coach, there’s not a system and there’s not an organization that can win without really good players. When I took the job, I wanted to be in a situation that had good players, and that’s what I have.”
Brooks is a communicator. It’s not unusual to see him talking to a player following a practice. Sometimes, he will text a player. But he’s not always the mild-mannered coach you see in news conferences. He can yell and get angry, too.
Said Beal: “He’s got a magical touch. He’s a mix of old-school and new-school. He’s the best of both worlds.”
Brooks also uses humor and sarcasm to makes his point. Following a recent game in which Brooks was not thrilled with All-Star guard John Wall’s first-half defense, Brooks had a one-on-one discussion with Wall at practice.
“I told him, ‘Your third and fourth quarter defense was outstanding. Maybe we should just start the game at the 24-minute mark,’ ” Brooks said. “He laughed. But he knows. There’s always ways to talk to the players.”
Brooks is his element in D.C., both on and off the court. He loves the city, its history, its architecture, its energy and the basketball franchise.
On a recent Wednesday morning, Brooks left his downtown condo three blocks from Verizon Center, took out his phone and ordered a drink from the Starbucks app – a grande latte with two pumps of vanilla syrup.
He says he can walk in the city in relative anonymity though the Starbucks employees recognize him. He’s got a pizza place in one direction, a Cuban restaurant in another and a trio of restaurants from renowned chef Jose Andres, who is known to invite Brooks into one of the restaurants for a late-night meal after a Wizards game.
“I love my experience in D.C. This is a wonderful place to live. The city is vibrant. You feel it walking to work. It’s a great part of my day,” Brooks said. “I’ve enjoyed it this year and hoping it lasts for a long time. This is what I wanted. I want to do this for a long time, and if you have a group of guys you enjoy working with, it’s a great life.”