Kevin Durant bids fond farewell to Scott Brooks, but supports coach's firing '100 percent'

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After Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder had fired Scott Brooks, many fans found themselves wondering what the Thunder's stars would have to say about the loss of the head coach who had led the team to three Western Conference Finals and the 2012 NBA Finals before missing the playoffs this injury-plagued season.

While All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook's social media presence has remained quiet save for a multi-pronged promotion of his Barneys New York fashion line, 2013-14 Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant — who was limited by foot injuries to just 27 games this season, which goes a long way toward explaining why Oklahoma City is watching the postseason rather than participating in it for the first time since 2009 — offered his thoughts in an Instagram post on Wednesday evening:

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Today was tough for me. While I support our team's decision 100 percent and look forward to the upcoming season and the future in OKC, Scotty was my coach and a friend for the past 7 seasons. We accomplished a lot together, and those times will never be taken away from us. I grew as both a man and a ball player under his guidance and for that I will forever be grateful. I wish nothing but the best for him and his family who have also been such a big part of this city and organization. I know he will be very successful in wherever his next steps in life are.

It's a thoughtful, measured response from Durant, a fitting farewell to the coach who took the Thunder's reins 13 games into Durant's second season and helped him grow into an All-Star, a scoring champion, a FIBA World Championship and Olympic gold medalist, the league's MVP and one of the defining talents of his generation. The Thunder won 62 percent of their games with Brooks on the sideline, evolving under his watch from an enticing collection of young talent into a legitimate title contender for four straight years, only to watch injuries — to Westbrook in 2013, to Serge Ibaka in 2014, and to all three this season.

In his statement on the firing, OKC general manager Sam Presti said the decision to "part ways" with Brooks wasn't based on this year's performance.

"As we all know, this past year we had unique and challenging circumstances and as I have conveyed, not many people could have accomplished what Scott and this team were able to," Presti wrote. "Therefore, it is very important to state that this decision is not a reflection of this past season, but rather an assessment of what we feel is necessary at this point in time in order to continually evolve, progress and sustain.

"We determined that, in order to stimulate progress and put ourselves in the best position next season and we looked to the future, a transition of this kind was necessary for the program."

Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks won a lot of games together in Oklahoma City. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks won a lot of games together in Oklahoma City. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

As the Thunder move forward, though, the most important question facing the franchise isn't which head coach Presti will hire to replace Brooks and "stimulate progress" for a team that has fallen short of its lofty objectives for the past half-decade. No, it's whether Presti's choice to move on — and his subsequent hire, which may or may not come from the college ranks — will be enough to convince Durant to re-up for the long haul when he reaches unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2016.

It's a tall task, to be sure. Presti will have to improve upon an established coach who — despite his limitations when it came to crafting creative offensive schemes that could maximize his All-Star players' unique gifts and his predilection toward lineups featuring multiple defensive-minded (and, in some cases, well-past-their-prime) veteran players whom opponents could ignore — produced six consecutive top-12 finishes in offensive efficiency, including top-10 finishes from 2010 through 2014; who got a young team full of offensive talent to accept the challenge of defending in a brutal Western Conference en route to three top-five finishes in defensive efficiency over the past five seasons; and who figured out how to create the space (physically, emotionally, interpersonally) for Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and (for a while there) James Harden to grow together.

As SB Nation's Paul Flannery wrote last spring, allowing talented players to flourish, compelling them to coexist and convincing them to trust in the greater plan tends to matter at least as much being able to draw up a winner out of a timeout late in a tight game. In that area, judging by both the win-loss record and the warm language of Durant's Instagram missive, Brooks seems to have been pretty successful. And yet, Presti moved on.

Brooks' firing represents the latest in a string of recent decisions aimed at, among other things, proving to Durant that he is bound and determined to do whatever's in his power to deliver a championship to Oklahoma City immediately. It follows Presti's decision to trade a first-round draft pick to bring in Dion Waiters in hopes the Cleveland Cavaliers guard would offer a scoring boost that would make life a bit easier on Durant and Westbrook, and the subsequent shipping out of longtime center Kendrick Perkins in a three-team deal that brought back a trio of reinforcements (high-scoring center Enes Kanter, reserve point guard D.J. Augustin, floor-spacing swingman Kyle Singler) whom Presti hoped could help the Thunder win now and later (provided OKC re-ups Kanter, a restricted free-agent this summer).

Whether any of these moves will pay off, of course, remains to be seen. If Presti rolls snake eyes on the hire — if the next coach, whoever it may be, can't develop the same level of trust and support within the locker room that Brooks did over time, or produce similar or better results — then Durant could still walk in a year's time, Westbrook could find himself thinking about an escape plan when his number comes up one year later, and at that point, in all likelihood, everything Presti has built will have turned to ash.

If nothing else, in making the moves — this most drastic one in particular — Presti's refusing to stand pat. For now, at least, that commitment to moving forward has met with "100 percent" support from the Thunder's most important player. On one hand, that's one hell of an approval rating for Presti and his front office. On the other, it gives him nowhere to go but down.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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