Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Feeling a bit of a void these days? Sure, it’s hard not to feel a little down and a bit of an emotional emptiness as Game 2 approaches tonight of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals. After all, many felt this would be the year the Oklahoma City Thunder unseated LeBron James and Miami from their NBA throne. Certainly it wasn’t supposed to be the Spurs starring in that role.
But there the Spurs are, and here the Thunder sit. Again. And while many ponder what needs to be done to get the Thunder over the hump and winning a title, it really could potentially be solved with one phone call:
“Hello, Larry? This is Sam. Let’s talk.”
Yep, sitting just a few hours south of Oklahoma City is a coaching legend who has a history of winning and whose phone number should be on speed dial for Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
That coach is Larry Brown, the only coach to have won both an NCAA title and NBA title and who has, in two short seasons, taken the woebegone SMU hoops program and turned it into a Top 25 team.
Don’t laugh. The parallels between Brown’s last NBA title and the Thunder are striking.
Brown, known as “The Godfather,” won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 after Detroit’s then-coach Rick Carlisle could never seem to get the team over the hump despite 50-win seasons, falling short of the NBA Finals.
Brown came in and in Zen-like fashion (sorry Phil Jackson), molded the Pistons into a championship team that destroyed the Lakers to sweep to the crown.
And he did it without the benefit of a superstar. The Pistons did it with a starting cast consisting of Rick Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince.
The Thunder are light years ahead of Detroit’s 2004 roster, but lack championship timber, part of which consists of playing defense. It’s no mistake Miami is going for its third title. You can flash-and-dash all night long, but you still have to stop the other guys.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is clearly a decent coach, but like Carlisle, can’t seem to get the team to the pinnacle.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not an expert on NBA strategy. Give me a dry-erase board and I would be hard-pressed to come up with more than a stick figure shooting a ball with an arrow pointing at Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
Then again, it seems at times that is the extent of the Thunder playbook. Brooks has done a credible job, and from all indications is well-liked, but many see Brooks as having reached his zenith and it may be time to find that one coach that can deliver the Thunder to the promised land.
Yes, the Thunder need somebody to step up besides their big two and from past indications, it would be safe to say Brown could be that guy who gets that extra dimension out of this team.
Brown remains one of the most respected basketball minds and coaches out there. Sure, he has his detractors and has his skeletons in his closet. Kansas going on probation one year after winning the crown in 1988 under Brown remains a blemish on his otherwise solid record.
And while some may point to his extended travels as a sign of restlessness, it is just that career wanderlust that has made Brown a success and would give reason to believe he would be open to one more career stop.
During his career, Brown has made stops in Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Indiana, Philadelphia, Detroit, New York and Charlotte in the NBA, compiling a 1098-904 career mark and with stops at UCLA, Kansas and SMU is 219-88 in the collegiate ranks.
He may not stick around long, but Brown delivers and that is what OKC needs now while its young nucleus is intact and primed for success.
In other words, pick up the phone, Sam.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.