With Wizards season over, focus shifts to Scott Brooks' future

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With Wizards season over, focus shifts to Brooks' future originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Now that the Wizards' 2020-21 season is officially over following their first-round playoff loss to the Sixers, the question which has loomed in the background all year has returned to the forefront: What will they do with head coach Scott Brooks?

Brooks just completed the final season of the five-year contract he signed with the Wizards in the summer of 2016. He led them to the playoffs in 2020-21 for the third time in five seasons, but they also finished with a losing record for the third straight year. 

Getting to the eight-seed was an accomplishment, especially given how their season started, and all they went through to get there. But they lost in five games to the Sixers, the lone win aided by Joel Embiid leaving with an injury in the first quarter

The Wizards now have to decide whether they want to part ways with Brooks or retain him, the latter option being a short-term deal. It's worth noting Brooks' agent was at several of the Wizards' postseason home games. Conversations have been ongoing.

"I love it here," Brooks said following his team's final loss of the season on Wednesday. "There's no decision in my mind, I love it here."

There are arguments for either direction. If they choose to keep Brooks, it will likely be due to a number of things; the fact they took a step forward this season, his relationship with Russell Westbrook and that they played really well when healthy. The Wizards could look at their 17 wins in their final 23 games, some of which were played without Bradley Beal, and believe that was more indicative of Brooks and the team's potential than their lowest moments. Clearly, they didn't quit on him.

Brooks' relationship with Westbrook is also very strong. While there were questions about what they thought of each other towards the end of their time in Oklahoma City, Westbrook has made it clear he's a big fan. On numerous occasions this season he has gone out of his way to credit Brooks for the team's success.

"Players get a lot of credit because we're on the floor. But behind the scenes, Scotty is one hell of a coach. Not just that, a person, and he does an amazing job making sure we've got all our stuff together," Westbrook said, unprompted, last month.

"If it wasn't for him and his ability to be able to make decisions on the fly, make the right calls and put the right guys in and out of the game and put us in the right place to be successful, a lot of this stuff wouldn't be happening. All of the outside noise, it really doesn't matter, honestly, because we know how important he is, and I know how important he is to myself and to the team."

The case against Brooks, if the Wizards decided to move on, could be as simple as they feel like a change would benefit the team, that a fresh voice could make a difference. It could also come down to money, as he made $7 million annually on his deal and the Wizards could conceivably find someone to coach them well for cheaper.

Given Brooks' contract is expiring, the team could sell a split as a mutual parting of ways. Brooks took them back to the playoffs, then walked away, to a certain extent on a high note.

The decision for the Wizards, though, may be better framed in terms of what type of coach they would replace Brooks with. If they go with a first-time head coach, someone younger and less proven, it could present a risk with the competitive window they have with Westbrook and Beal leading the way. Westbrook is 32 and both players have team options in their contracts after the 2021-22 season.

For that scenario, what happened in Indiana this season could serve as a cautionary tale. The Pacers let go of Nate McMillan and replaced him with Nate Bjorkgren. McMillan turned the Hawks around this season, while the Pacers were such a disaster they may move on from Bjorkgren after just one season. 

But replacing Brooks with someone more experienced would cost lots of money and also likely require more years on the contract. Given the long-term uncertainty of the roster, that may give the Wizards pause.

So, in a sense the experience plus the likely flexibility of a new Brooks deal could be considered. But by no stretch is it that simple, nor would it be surprising if they let him go. General manager Tommy Sheppard and his staff have a difficult and important decision to make.