- The Washington Times
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

After the season, general manager Tommy Sheppard said the Washington Wizards weren’t looking to make wholesale changes. But now, following two weeks of deliberations, the Wizards will indeed make a major change: Coach Scott Brooks is out. 

Brooks won’t return for a sixth season after the two sides could not agree to a new contract, the team announced. Brooks exits after five years on the bench, a tenure that included three playoff appearances but inconsistent play. The Wizards went 183-207 in that time.

The decision to move on from Brooks comes after a trying Wizards season that resulted in a first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Sheppard previously praised Brooks for keeping the team together through a tumultuous time, which saw Washington close the season on a 17-6 record to make the postseason.

But Sheppard said Brooks’ future would be determined based on his past performance and whether the coach could “take the Wizards to another level.” And on Wednesday, addressing reporters, Sheppard said he made the “very, very difficult” decision to part ways.

“This is show business, not show friends,” said Sheppard, who held a close connection with Brooks. “What we’ve got to do as an organization is continue to do whatever it takes to put ourselves forward to have sustainable winning.”

“This is about the future and where we can go,” he added later.

The Wizards will now be in search of a coach who must navigate a pivotal season ahead. Beal and Russell Westbrook — the team’s two stars — can opt out of their contracts after next year, and the team also has a number of young pieces (Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Daniel Gafford) that must take another step. 

The market, however, could be competitive. Five other teams — Boston, Portland, Indiana, Orlando and New Orleans — have coaching vacancies. Popular names floated in this year’s cycle include Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr. and former coaches Terry Stotts and Steve Clifford. 

Sheppard said he won’t put a time table on when Washington will make a hire, though added he’d preferably like to have a coach by the start of free agency in August. He did not seem worried about the number of other openings, saying the District “sells itself” to coaches. 

Sheppard, though, was hesitant to say what he was looking for in the team’s next coach. He said he didn’t want to tip off the qualities he’s seeking ahead of interviewing candidates, but added he wants someone who is a strong communicator and can excel in offensive and defensive schemes. “The days of one coach being the solution to every single problem that a team has is over,” he said.

Brooks was well-liked among the Wizards, with Westbrook notably calling for his return after the season ended. Westbrook, who was acquired last December and was also coached by Brooks in Oklahoma City, told reporters Brooks “wouldn’t be going anywhere” if the decision were up to him. Beal, too, called Brooks a “true player’s coach” and said he was appreciative of him.

Beal made major strides under Brooks, with the Wizards star most recently earning an All-NBA selection for the first time in his nine-year career. He’s been an All-Star three times while playing for Brooks. Beal transformed into an elite scorer, becoming only one of six players in NBA history to average more than 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons. Beal’s ascension was key in the Wizards determining that they wanted to build around him rather than tear down the roster.

Still, Brooks, 55, didn’t make enough progress to save his job. Of the Wizards’ three playoff appearances, Washington only got past the first round once — in Brooks’ first year with the franchise, coming a game short of the Eastern Conference finals. The Wizards went 49-33 that year, their best under Brooks

More so, Washington failed to establish consistency in Brooks’ tenure. The Wizards never ranked better than 15th defensively — league average — and held a bottom 10 defense in the four other seasons. Other young promising players like Tomas Satoransky and Troy Brown were often frustrated by the lack of a defined role and were eventually traded.

Brooks arrived in the District in 2016, a year removed from being fired by Oklahoma City. With the Thunder, Brooks navigated a young trio of Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant — a core of superstars that made the finals in 2012. That experience landed Brooks a five-year, $35 contract from the Wizards.

But when it came time to negotiate a new deal this time around, Sheppard ultimately chose to go in a different direction. And now, the Wizards must find Brooks’ replacement. 

“We have a very disciplined approach to this,” Sheppard said. “It’s going to be very thorough. It’s going to be  — I can’t say this enough — a very diverse, inclusive group of people that we will look at. That’s in due time.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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