While the focus as of Sunday will be on free-agent NBA players, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still hoping to keep their coach, Scott Brooks, from entering the same waters.
As of Friday, the only certainty is that for the tale of the Thunder's feel-good rise to continue, general manager Sam Presti and agent Warren LeGarie have to find a middle ground. Soon.
"We're not close," a source familiar with the negotiations said, "and the clock is ticking."
It's a sign of the times that the Thunder and Brooks have not been able to work out an extension, considering how much success they've had together. Since Brooks succeeded P.J. Carlesimo after a 1-12 start to the former Seattle franchise's first season (2008-09) in Oklahoma City, the Thunder's trajectory has been nothing but skyward. In his first full season as coach, they qualified for the 2010 playoffs. The next season, they reached the 2011 Western Conference finals. Now, of course, they're coming off a trip to the Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat in five games.
The crux of the problem is that Brooks, based on the team's accomplishments, has been vastly underpaid the past two seasons, making $1.9 million and $2.1 million, respectively. The Thunder originally offered him a three-year extension worth between $11 million and $12 million before this past season. In light of this year's success, they increased the offer to roughly four years for $16 million.
Those figures are in line with the NBA's new economic model, where championship-winning Heat coach Erik Spoelstra made $3 million this year, according to sources, and last year's championship-winning coach, Rick Carlisle of the Mavericks, signed an extension that netted him only a $100,000 raise -- from $4.5 million to $4.6 million -- in the first year of his new deal.
While Presti and LeGarie both declined to comment on the negotiations, the Thunder's view seems to be they are giving Brooks a hefty raise and, based on the latest deals -- including the Bulls keeping Tom Thibodeau in the $2 million range by exercising a one-year option despite Chicago posting the East's best record the past two seasons -- are paying him top dollar. Randy Wittman, recently named head coach of the Washington Wizards, is making less than $2 million. LeGarie, of course, can counter that Brooks maneuvered the coltish Thunder past both Carlisle and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is believed to be making close to $6 million a year.
The decision facing the Thunder is putting a price on Brooks' importance in the continued growth and development of the team's impressive collection of young talent, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. For Brooks, it's weighing the value of coaching that championship-caliber talent against possibly starting over with the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers, who plan to pursue Brooks if he's available. LeGarie also represents the Blazers' new GM, Neil Olshey.