Monday, June 7, 2021


The NBA‘s post-playoff coaching and executive shuffle, so far, has not been great for the Washington Wizards.

First, Danny Ainge left the Boston front office and was replaced by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, which leaves one of the game’s legendary coaching jobs open.

That won’t help the Wizards.

Then, the Portland Trail Blazers and their long-time coach, Terry Stotts, reportedly “mutually agreed to part company” after Portland’s fourth first-round playoff exit in five years, which leaves a coaching job with one of the greatest players in the league, Damion Lillard, open.

Soon after, the Orlando Magic and Steve Clifford also had one of those “mutual decisions” parting of the ways, leaving open the coaching job that … well, it is a short drive to Walt Disney World.

None of this is good news for Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard, if he is really ready to say goodbye to Scott Brooks and try to lure a new head coach to Washington.

There was already stiff competition for the names on the list of coaching candidates Sheppard has probably carried around with him since he was hired to fix the Wizards more than two years ago.

But this franchise has a dismal record of attracting people who are in demand see Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Maybe Sheppard not being Ernie Grunfeld will change that.

Because of that, we don’t know if Sheppard is going to be looking to replace Brooks, whose five-year, $35 million contract is up.

Sheppard told reporters last week, the day after being eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, that he wasn’t going to talk about Brooks’ future that day.

Sheppard said an evaluation will take place over the next few weeks.

“We are not doing anything about that today,” Sheppard said. “We obviously are going to do a thorough evaluation from top to bottom of our whole organization and ways we can get better. But any questions about that stuff, that is not for today.”

By the time the whole organization gets around to that, all the cool kids may be taken.

I doubt that Sheppard needs any more time to evaluate Brooks. He remains the coach that players love because, as his soulmate Russell Westbrook said, “He lets me be me.”

“Being me” for Westbrook is often being an entertaining train wreck on the court, and that’s OK with Brooks, who called Westbrook the second-best point guard in NBA history.

Here’s what you probably won’t hear Brooks say about any players he coaches: “He’s the second-best defensive player I’ve ever seen.”

When all is said and done, the issue for Sheppard may come down to the inability to get the coach he wants to come to Washington. Then he will need to come up with a plan to live with Brooks and an extension that certainly doesn’t last for another five years.

Sheppard told reporters last week that he is not “afraid to take big swings.”

He was referring to the roster, and his trade of John Wall for Westbrook certainly backs up that statement. As erratic as Westbrook is and as limited as he is when it comes to NBA playoff basketball, he helped the franchise move on from Wall, his behind-the-scenes baggage and his contract. Fan-favorite Westbrook is a big swing that connected.

But Sheppard also has an owner in Ted Leonsis who likes to take the bat out of his front office’s hands (see Bradley Beal trade proposal for James Harden in 2012 that the owner vetoed).

Sheppard may be satisfied with the job Brooks has done keeping this team together during a difficult COVID-19-plagued start and the season-ending turnaround of winning 17 of their final 23 games to get into the playoffs.

But Sheppard worked 26 years in the NBA before finally getting his chance to run a team. I would assume he created a plan along the way, a vision of what he would do when he finally got his shot.

I find it hard to believe that Brooks would figure into that picture. He is not a “big swing.”

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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