Scott Brooks Just Fine with Oklahoma City Thunder Carrying Expectations into this Season: “I like that people know that we’re good.”

December 30, 2011 – 7:45 am by Michael Bean

Kevin Durant insists the so-called feud between he and Russell Westbrook is no big deal at all, and that the two of them are more than capable of co-existing as the Oklahoma City Thunder try to take the next big step forward and compete for an NBA title. When you’re winning games — which OKC did again on Thursday night thanks to Durant’s game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer – it’s easy to sweep little tiffs under the rug. We’ll see if this ongoing saga bubbles back up to the surface in a more detrimental way to the team if and when the Thunder hit a rough patch where tempers flare.

Head coach Scott Brooks deserves credit for fostering a team-first environment. It helps when your superstar player is as selfless as they come. Sounds like Brooks may need to keep his eye on Westbrook though as the point guard works out the kinks to start the year while Durant’s star keeps rising higher and brighter.

Brooks joined Chris Mannix filling in for DP on The Dan Patrick Show to talk about his impressions of Ricky Rubio after the Thunder faced off against him and the Timberwolves earlier this week, if his approach to coaching this group has changed now that the Thunder have sky-high expectations at the outset of this season, the extra moves Kevin Durant has seemingly added to his already deadly offensive arsenal, how tough it was to not be able to communicate with his players who he likes so much during the lockout, the biggest challenge he envisions dealing with a 66-game schedule packed into a short amount of time, the struggles of Russell Westbrook to start the year, and why he’s not worried about Westbrook’s early-season shortcomings.

On the debut of Ricky Rubio and his initial impressions

“Very impressive. I’ve been hearing about this kid for five or six years, but never had a chance to see him live. And it was good to see him. He is real, and he is good. He’s a passing machine. He’s going to have a lot of friends on his team, because he loves to pass, he loves to please his teammates. His shooting? He shot the ball well against us. I saw his pre-game workouts, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as advertised. But he can really get into the lane, he has long defensive arms, and he’s going to be a really good player, I think he’s going to really help that team.”

If he takes a different approach to coaching this team now that expectations are sky-high for the Thunder:

“Nothing changes on our end. I mean, I like it. I like that people know that we’re good. We worked very hard to get to this point. We’re not cocky, we’re not arrogant, we’re just working every day to try to get better. I mean, just three or four years ago it was we’re the worst team of all time, they were talking. Well, through the hard work, through Kevin Durant’s effort and commitment to get better every day, along with Russell [Westbrook] and the other players, we’ve improved. We have a chance to be really good for a long time, but we still have to have that team mentality, that worklike mentality, which we have, and we have to display it every night.”

On the extra offensive moves Kevin Durant has added to his already potent arsenal:

“You know, Kevin is getting better every year, and he should — he’s only 23 years old. We should see improvement for the next seven, eight years. But he brought back another element to his game — I look at it as just toughness. He would usually the last couple of years getting pushed out of spots where we wanted him to get the ball at. This last three games and the two exhibition games, when we want him to have the ball in a certain area, he demands it and he gets it. And his passing. You know, he’s a great play-maker. He has great court vision, he’s an amazing scorer, and he draws double teams. But now he’s doing the cross-court passes, the duck-in passes to the bigs, he’s looking for those areas now. But I think the game is slowing down for him also, and I think he understands he can do more than just score.”

How tough was it for him not to be able to communicate with his players during the prolonged lockout:

“Well I think it was very tough not talk to our players all offseason, especially if you like your players. I’ve been on teams where the coach didn’t like us so he didn’t want to talk to us! He couldn’t wait for the season to be over so he didn’t have to talk to us until October.  I missed talking to our players. I love our guys. I like the way they work, I like they present themselves on the court everyday. But everyone had the same situation, we dealt with it. I knew our players would come back better, I knew they would be in shape. And [Kendrick] Perk[ins] was really good. When he left us, he wasn’t at the place he wanted to be, but he was committed to getting back better and he’s much improved.”

On what the biggest challenge will be of navigating a 66 game schedule in a shortened period of time:

“I think with us practice time. We really utilize our shoot-arounds and our practice time because we were a young team that could spend a lot of energy and a lot of time on the court. We don’t need to save our legs for games. I just think we need to cut the length of the time, and we’ll just have to half them. But everybody has the same challenges. You have to embrace it. You have to figure a way to get your guys ready to play 66 nights. That’s the heart of coaching, I’m excited about that opportunity. Our guys love to practice. Sometimes on off days they all show up. And that’s not abnormal here. We have to be smart, and we have to be very wise in how we utilize our practices.”

On Russell Westbrook’s rough start to the season, most notably on Wednesday night:

“Russell’s fine. I’ve always looked at Russell as ‘has he gotten better every year?’And if anybody doesn’t answer that question yes, they have something against Russell. He’s improved every year. He didn’t play point guard in college; he didn’t play his freshman year really, he played a few minutes here and there. He played his sophomore year . he got drafted by his team that did not have a good record. His second year we’re in the playoffs; the third year he’s an All Star, we go to the Conference Finals and he’s the point guard on this team and that’s a very important position. He’s improved and he’s come back a better player. He’s had a rough start. Last night was as bad of a game as he’s played, but like I told him, he made three important plays at the end of the game. He set two great screens for Kevin to get open at the free throw line, and he made two big free throws to ice the game. You’re going to have bad games, that’s just part of being in this league. The great ones have bad games; the average ones have a lot of bad games. Russell’s going to be fine. The criticism? That’s just part of being relevant. Nobody was criticizing us other than we stunk three or four years ago. If you’re going to be a good team, you have to deal with that and move on from game to game and really just focus on what you have to do each night to win the game.”

Listen here to Brooks with Chris Mannix on The Dan Patrick Show (interview begins at 22:30 mark)

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