We probably don't give Doug Collins enough credit for his involvement in the growth of the Chicago Bulls and the development of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. It was Collins who took the Bulls from a 30-win team to the conference finals in a three-year span. It was under Collins that Jordan won his first MVP, his only Defensive Player of the Year award and had his two highest-scoring seasons.
But we only remember the former Bulls coach for being the guy who couldn't get the greatest player in the world over the hump. That man was Phil Jackson. All hail Phil Jackson.
Sure, Jordan was rumored to be the one who nudged Collins out of town. The thought of a superstar of the team running a coach out of town was nothing new, and Jordan was beginning to grow frustrated in not winning a title. But this rumor doesn't really have legs, per Sam Smith, the author of The Jordan Rules:
This is the real story. Michael Jordan didn't get Doug Collins fired from the Bulls in 1989. Nor did he ask for Collins' dismissal. In fact, when club Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told Jordan the Bulls were considering firing the frenetic Collins after the team went to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 14 years, Jordan said the Bulls never would do it because Collins was too popular in Chicago.
Later, when Collins job was on the line during the 1988-89 season, MJ leaned on doing what was best for the team.
Jordan was asked at the time whether he would try to stop the firing or object to it. Jordan said he wouldn't; it was the right move for the team.
We all know how this story ends. Jackson, the lead Bulls assistant coach, usurped power from Collins (and had formed a spectacular relationship with Jordan in the process) and won the first of six titles in eight years two seasons later. Yes, I'd say that was the right move for the team.
There's an obvious parallel in Oklahoma City.
Scott Brooks has been the only coach the Thunder have known during their rise to prominence. Brooks' main job has been to mold the clay that is Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka into the superstars they are today. Brooks succeeded in one sense, taking the Thunder from a 3-29 start through a similar Collins-like playoff progression that went from the first round to the conference finals and then the NBA Finals in a three-year span. The last two years since have been mired by injuries to superstars (Westbrook in 2013, Ibaka in 2014), and it's hard to fully place blame at the feet of Brooks when being so short-handed.
Photo credit: Ronald Martinez
However, history tells us the best NBA franchises have seen many coaches come and go. There's often been a make or break point where an organization decides it needs to find someone to take the team from good to great. The Bulls brass knew that while making the conference finals was nice, Collins wasn't the guy to get them over the hump.
We also saw this with Stan Van Gundy during his time with the Miami Heat. After winning 42 and 59 games the previous two years, 2006 saw a veteran-laden squad constructed by Pat Riley come out the blocks with an 11-10 record. Riley saw the writing on the wall and further cemented his godfather-like legacy by grabbing the coach's whistle and finishing the job himself. A 42-20 record post-SVG and an amazing playoff run saw the Heat win their first NBA title.
Serge Ibaka might play against Spurs yet
The Thunder announced that their starting power forward is making a strong recovery from a calf injury and could return to the court at some point before the Western Conference Finals ends.
Jordan and Dwyane Wade had strong organizational leadership that was willing to execute on tough decisions even during times of success. The scary thought about Oklahoma City, given its talent, is that one could think that they succeed in spite of their coach and not because of him.
This isn't a slam against Brooks, because he's proven that he can successfully develop young talent and give them the confidence to succeed on the highest of levels. Brooks will be a coach in the NBA for years to come just because of that singular ability.
But one must wonder if the use of that ability has now expired. The injuries of Westbrook and Ibaka have brought out the worst in a team that's been deemed as a title favorite for the last couple of years. The inability to make the right adjustments, the simplicity of the offense, the unwillingness to be flexible with the roster and an over-dependence on veterans have OKC on the precipice of getting booted from the playoffs in an ugly fashion. The talent has developed, and now, the team needs no more motivation. The Thunder are in desperate need of a coach who can maximize the talent on the floor and create a system that puts both their superstars and role players in the best positions to succeed. Scott Brooks, for all his work getting Oklahoma City to this point, doesn't feel like that guy.
Brooks now has little time to prove his expiration date isn't just a few games down on the horizon. If he can't, Oklahoma City's leadership should start shopping for a new gallon of milk.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: A White Russian. This is what happens when you start talking about milk and expiration dates in an article. Also, I was watching Monday Night Raw on DVR while writing this and I was inspired by Lana. She's awesome in her Rusev-loving and Putin-loving glory.
Happy Memorial Day, everybody. Enjoy.