The swinging door on the Wizards’ head coach’s office has swung yet again, with Scott Brooks entering the space and meeting new co-workers Wednesday.
That completes the recent cycle of introductions among Washington’s major pro franchises and developments look promising for the hockey, football and baseball teams thus far. Brooks would do well to replicate their success with his new hoops squad.
Of course it’s too early to say much definitively about the Nationals in their first season under manager Dusty Baker, unless the subject is their smooth start on a six-month journey. The grizzled skipper was dealt a strong hand and resembles a man with nothing to lose, exhibiting a relaxed, carefree nature that trickles down and makes baseball fun.
On the rink, the Capitals have reached the playoffs’ second round for the second time in their two seasons with Barry Trotz behind the bench. Another longtime leader who came to town with 15 years of experience (compared to Baker’s 20 years), Trotz was a landslide winner for coach of the year this month in TSN’s anonymous poll of bench bosses.
On the gridiron, Jay Gruden rebounded nicely after an initial campaign that made us wonder if he’d see a third season in Washington. He didn’t have the benefit of a long resume filled with playoff appearances like Baker and Trotz; all Gruden had was 4-12 as a rookie coach and disarray under center. But he found his groove and his QB last season as Washington shockingly won the NFC East.
In a sports market where his counterparts have barely begun their D.C. legacies, Brooks has a great opportunity to carve out space. As with Baker and Trotz, his past achievements provide a sense of assurance that didn’t exist with their predecessors.
Randy Wittman had the distinction of being the NBA’s all-time losingest coach when he took the Wizards’ job. Matt Williams had never managed in the majors before the Nats gave him a shot. Likewise, Adam Oates was a newbie coach when the Caps hired him on the same day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Brooks brings a .620 career regular-season winning percentage and a ledger that includes trips to the NBA Finals (one) and Western Conference finals (three). His deeds at Oklahoma City arguably would be more impressive if not for untimely injuries to standouts Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
He’s the coach who took those youngsters – plus former OKC guard James Harden – and molded them into the stars they’ve become today. The Wizards are counting on him to do the same with their backcourt of John Wall and Brad Beal, plus young wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.
“We felt Scott was the perfect coach for our situation,” general manager Ernie Grunfeld said during the introductory news conference.
We pause to remind ourselves that GMs toss plaudits like rice at weddings when a new coach comes aboard. Grunfeld had nice things to say about Wittman, Flip Saunders and Eddie Jordan, too, before they were shown the door with nary a visit to the conference finals between them.
The fact is no one knows how this will play out. The “perfect coach” usually exists only in hindsight, a la Erik Spoelstra, who went from video coordinator to two-time NBA champion. Or then-Spurs GM Greg Popovich, who fired Bob Hill and named himself as a first-time NBA coach.
Teams can find unexpected success through unconventional hires, but retreads can flame out just as often. Available talent is usually a factor in both instances. Brooks won’t have KD and Westbrook to bolster his new team. The late Saunders didn’t have Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton to carry him to three consecutive conference finals as they did in Detroit.
That said, Brooks and his fellow D.C. coaches are poised to make some noise in the capital.
Some of their sports’ best players are on the home teams, from John Wall to Bryce Harper and Braden Holtby to Jordan Reed. The Caps have a reputation of success (at least in the regular season), the Nats are building a tradition of excellence (postseason notwithstanding) and the NFL team is making a comeback with a sharp GM (erasing bad memories day by day).
“I think (Wizards) fans deserve a team that competes every year in the playoffs,” Brooks said. “We will put a product on the floor that fans can be proud of.”
The Wizards took a step backward this season, but they’re looking up with Brooks.
He’ll soon discover that’s a theme with recent coaching hires in these parts.