5 ‘Last Dance’ lessons OKC Thunder can use to build title team

OKC Thunder huddle (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder huddle (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
OKC Thunder: Billy Donovan (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

Head Coach need assets beyond x’s and o’s:

‘The Last Dance’ provided ample lessons about the Bulls roster and their stars but it also gave credence to how important the Head Coach is. Perhaps what was most surprising was the off-court management required to keep the Bulls performing.

Phil Jackson was masterful and arguably the best ever at dealing with stars and personalities. Letting Dennis Rodman take a 48-hour vacation to Vegas seems crazy now, but the enigmatic player needed that time to get dialed in. While Scottie Pippen was boiling over about the disrespect he felt the Bulls and Jerry Krause specifically were treating him with Jackson stayed cool and somehow got Pippen back on the court once his injury healed.

When Pippen refused to finish the game because Jackson called Tony Kukoc’s number the Bulls still won the game and there was no lingering bad blood between star and coach.

This part of the docuseries resonated when considering recent seasons with the OKC Thunder. Much of the reason why many Thunder fans were calling for Donovan’s head at the end of last season had to do with what seemed like a lack of adapting in the playoffs or an offensive scheme.

In hindsight, that may have been more a factor of how he elected to deal with superstars (or perhaps their refusal to listen). Three years ago, Donovan seemed to wait too long to take Carmelo Anthony off the court versus the Jazz allowing Utah to pull ahead and eventually win the series.

This season, Donovan hasn’t just improved he should be on the shortlist for Coach of the Year candidates.

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What this speaks to is just how much more is involved in the role of Head Coach and how important the relationship with the team leader is. Which begs the question — is this year different simply because Chris Paul bought in and fully respects Billy D?

Moving forward, Donovan is in the final year of his contract, and decisions will need to be made this offseason. It’s interesting no extension has been offered yet which may suggest Presti might want to make a change. Or it might be nothing. Either way, a positive working in Donovan’s favor is how the team overachieved this season and Gilgeous-Alexander (the future of the team) has a solid working relationship with the coach.

Barring Presti adding difficult personalities or demanding superstars the OKC Thunder should feel confident with Donovan or whoever takes over given CP3 and SGA aren’t the types of players who’ll make life difficult for the bench boss.

For the moment, the OKC Thunder like the rest of us is anxious for a resumption of the season. As for the future, the team is poised with a quality young star who’ll make this process easier than we might have initially imagined.

And, if Sam Presti sticks to the principles outlined above the team should be back in the thick of things sooner than later.

Next. Pros and cons of trading Chris Paul to New York Knicks. dark