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Bill Self better off at Kansas than with home-state Oklahoma City Thunder

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Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

The Oklahoma City Thunder has a coaching vacancy.

Cue the wild speculation.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday afternoon the small-market NBA franchise not too far from Lawrence, Kansas, decided to get rid of head coach Scott Brooks.

So don’t be too surprised if rumors start swirling about the Thunder having interest in Kansas head coach Bill Self or vice versa.

According to Wojnarowski, Oklahoma City has strong interest in Florida coach Billy Donovan. If the two-time NCAA champion Gators coach wants to jump to the league, the job could be his for the taking.

Plus, UConn's Kevin Ollie, who played for OKC, could figure into the coaching search.

None by Adrian Wojnarowski

But KU fans long have feared Self would leave Allen Fieldhouse behind for a lucrative, appealing job in the professional ranks. Throw into the equation that Self grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and went to Oklahoma State, and one could easily infer the Jayhawks’ coach would listen if OKC gave him a call.

And any coach with a pulse would have to contemplate such an offer, because the Thunder have arguably two of the best five players in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) by Sue Ogrocki

Here’s what we know:

• NBA teams have reached out to Self in the past. Just last year, Cleveland had some exploratory discussions with him about his interest.

• But Self told Gary Bedore last summer “not many” organizations have actually sought him out.

• As recently as last offseason, Self shot down the notion of leaving Kansas for an NBA job anytime soon.

“We’ve got so many good things going on right here,” Self told 610 radio in May of 2014. “You add the DeBruce Center (for Naismith rules and training table) and add the living quarters (new apartment complex to be built) to go along with the way we’ll be fed, from a recruiting standpoint we’ve done pretty well. I think we can even take a step up.”

The Thunder might not even have Self on their short list. It’s too early in the process to know either way. Whomever OKC goes after, expectations will be monumental. Injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at various junctures left the Thunder out of the playoffs this year. And Oklahoma City has a championship-level roster when everyone is healthy.

The new guy, whether that’s Donovan, Ollie, a coach with NBA experience or someone else, will be expected to not only guide the Thunder back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012, but bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Oklahoma.

OKC general manager Sam Presti made that clear in a statement he released:

“We move forward with confidence in our foundation and embrace the persistence and responsibility that is required to contract an elite and enduring basketball organization capable of winning an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.”

Self operates at KU with those types of job requirements, and maintaining those is easier at the college level when you’re working at a name-brand program such as Kansas.

For all the talent the Thunder has, nothing in the NBA is guaranteed. Durant will be a free agent in 2016. Westbrook’s contract expires the following season. We might be two years away from Oklahoma City falling into irrelevancy.

You couldn’t say that about Kansas.

Are the Thunder interested in Bill Self? Who knows at this juncture.

Given Self’s situation, and contract with KU, it’s hard to imagine he would want to leave that behind to become the head coach of his home state’s pro team.

UPDATE — 5:30 p.m.

The Oklahoman’s Thunder beat writer, Anthony Slater, on Wednesday posted a long list of possible replacements for Brooks. Of course, Donovan and Ollie topped the lineup as favorites.

However, The Oklahoman also pointed to Self and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg as currently employed options. Slater wrote Self would be a “widely popular” hire in OKC:

“Self is from Edmond and is as charismatic as they come. Not sure he fits the Thunder mold or is even on the radar at all. But, man, is it a fun hire to think about. Particularly from a media perspective.”

Comments

John Boyle 7 years, 2 months ago

Given Self’s situation, and contract with KU, it’s hard to imagine he would want to leave that behind to become the head coach of his home state’s pro team.

Then why bring it up??

Allison Steen 7 years, 2 months ago

Because everyone else is/will. Its a topic being talked about so I don't see anything wrong with it. Its their job.

Clarence Haynes 7 years, 2 months ago

Fofoca (fo-fo-ka) , which is the Portuguese word for gossip!

Jaston Archie 7 years, 2 months ago

You know the great thing about Kansas is that the program is above any coach or player. Winning and excellence is so entrenched here that no matter who the coach, the team will continue to win many games because of the expectation and the unreal home court advantage that is The Phog. I don't think any other program can say that. Kentucky is basically winning becasue of Calipari's recruiting skills, and I truly believe that after Coach K retires, Duke will fall down to a different level of program, like a Syracuse or Arizona. Coach K is Duke. But Kansas will always be bigger than one coach or one player.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 2 months ago

I disagree, I think that if you look at all of the other traditional programs, it's easy to see that the coach does make a huge difference in the product on the floor.

And I could see an argument that Kansas Basketball has incredible support from the athletic department and the University family, but even still, Bill Self has lobbied and leveraged for many of the upgrades to facilities that have taken place at KU in the past 10 years. Without his persistence, would we get the funds to do the upgrades to AFH, the practice facility, the Housing Complex and other things? Maybe not.

UCLA, Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky all are examples that no program is untouchable despite the tradition. If Kansas loses Bill Self and makes a poor hire, there will be down years. Likewise, if Duke makes a great hire when Coach K retires (think Brad Stevens or equivalent), then they will remain strong.

Jaston Archie 7 years, 2 months ago

Well coaching does matter, obviously, but what my comment assumes is that even the "worst" possible coach KU will hire will be well above average. So whomever he may be, it won't result in a drastic downfall. Kansas will still be one of the most televised teams, will still have some of the best fans, so recruits will always be interested in the program. I believe that KU would not experience a huge downturn with a new coach, as long as the recruits keep coming. In your comment, you noted Bill Self's efforts to upgrade KU facilities, which shows that he knows that luring in top talent is as important as coaching ability. Who you coach is just as important as how you coach. With a top class, Coach K goes from 1st round exit to national champs. On the other hand, Izzo takes a team with mediocre talent to the final four. Okay, I'm actually confusing myself now lol. Basically, if Kansas hires a coach, he will have a proven track record and resume that shows he knows how to coach X's and O's. And the brand and tradition of KU will automatically lure in top recruits, and hopefully that coach would bring his own charisma and charm with him to help lure in those recruits.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree with the sentiments of your post. KU is a destination that can lure top coaching talent. But no coaching hire is ever a sure thing. No matter who KU chooses to replace Self, whenever that time comes, it will take a few years to evaluate how he assimilates as the face of the franchise. Bill Self does so much more than just coach and recruit. He's the president and CEO of KU Basketball and sells the program with every word he says to anyone who will listen. He almost always says the right thing. He basically guided KU athletics as a whole through conference realignment while the department was transitioning from Lew Perkins to Sheahon Zenger. Not many head coaches can do what Bill Self does.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 2 months ago

You're partially right. KU is bigger than anyone coach or player. Our arena is named after the father of basketball coaching, the court is named after the first coach of KU, who just so happens to be the man who invented the game. The best player in KU history is on the short list of players who can realistically be in the discussion for greatest player ever. I forget if it is Self or if Roy did this, but one of the things they would tell recruits is that you come to Kansas, there is 0% chance of you being considered the greatest player in program history because of Wilt and Danny. There is also 0% chance of being considered the greatest coach is school history because Phog Allen coached here and basketball would not be what it is today without that man.

KU is one of the few programs that when it's coaching job is available, they can have a conversation with any coach (pro or college) and not immediately get hung up on because KU's legacy and importance to basketball is that great. Bill Self fully admitted he had no intentions on leaving Illinois until the Kansas job came open. He had Illinois primed for a national title run for 2 more seasons after he left, but the allure of Kansas was great enough to get Self to leave a program in position to possibly win back to back national titles.

That said, it's not a guarantee of continued success. UCLA appeared to be fully back early on under Ben Howland, they made 3 straight Final Fours and appeared like they were here to stay. Then Howland fell off the map for a couple of years and is now coaching Mississippi St. Also, look at Indiana with Tom Crean, expectations were through the roof that Indiana would be competing for national titles at this point. That hasn't happened and people are ready to run him out of Bloomington right now.

So, you are right that KU will absolutely land an elite level coach the next time the job is available. That said, it's not a guarantee that the next coach of KU continues to win at the level of Self and Roy. In the 27 years Roy and Self have led KU, KU has made the NCAA tournament 26 times (only Roy's first year when KU was banned from the NCAA tournament is when they missed). KU has won 23+ games every year but Roy's first year. KU has been a top 4 seed in 24 of those 26 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. KU has won at least a share of the regular season conference title in 21 of those 27 seasons (including 14 out of the last 15). It's absolutely mind boggling the stats KU has put up over the past quarter century, but past performance does not determine future successes. There is no guarantee that the next head coach at KU continues the level of success KU has experienced under Roy Williams and Bill Self.

Steve Jacob 7 years, 2 months ago

It all comes down to does Bill Self want to leave? This is the one job I think he would want if he wanted to leave college basketball. Having to recruit and replace top players every year has to be tiresome.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 2 months ago

Not to mention being the butt of "Rock Choke" jokes every year when Kansas falters against an FCS program in the first weekend of the Dance.

Fire Bill Self!

Jeff Coffman 7 years, 2 months ago

Although there are very few jobs where Bill Self would leave to take, I always thought the OKC Thunder and even higher on that list the San Antonio Spurs. From a college basketball I thought maybe OSU and possibly UCLA, but beyond that I don't think there would be any.

Here is going for #12inthe12.

Shannon Gustafson 7 years, 2 months ago

The comments on the previous article linked above are quite interesting, particularly the thoughts on Mason (ranked 131st at the time of our recruitment) since it is relevant to what we're currently dealing with this time of year (recruiting). All the people saying Mason was a guy who wouldn't see the floor ever, or until his jr or sr year is interesting as well.

Here is what was said about Mason via ESPN: Strengths: Mason is a very confident true point guard. He is a true floor general that can run the team. He pushes that ball and can shoot the 3 with deep range. Weaknesses: Mason is an average to good athlete at best. He can make deep 3's but his shot is more of a set shot. He will need to improve his speed and quickness and work to be a better defender in addition to adding strength. Bottom Line: Mason is a true point guard that has swagger and can run the team and make deep J's. He must work to improve his athletism and add strength but Mason can be trusted with the ball and has great upside.

What this shows is that info regarding low ranked recruits should be taken with a grain of salt (or assumed to be totally false) since basically the only thing true in that whole description is that he's basically a set shooter from long range and that he can improve on defense (as everyone can). Saying coming out of HS he's a true point guard? Self says he's a scoring guard learning to be a point guard. Average athlete? Self says he's the best athlete on the team and maybe the best he's ever coached. Needs to improve speed and quickness? Nobody can dispute he's got speed and quickness. Needs to add strength? He's been a "bulldog" since day one, strength has never been a problem with him.

In other words, trust in Bill Self's (and the assistant's) evaluation of lower ranked players more than what the recruiting sites say about them.

Tom Keegan 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Joe and Jonathan. No program ever was bigger than UCLA in the John Wooden years. They hired a good replacement, Gene Bartow, but the fans freaked out because he wasn't as good as Wooden and he moved on to the detriment of UCLA. I think if ever Self left, Kansas would have a shot at some of the very best coaches in America, but the chances of anyone reeling off 11 conference titles in a row, never having worse than a 4 seed, etc., are not good. I also don't buy that Tyler being on the team would have anything to do with his father's decision. They obviously are very close so the last thing Tyler would ever want to do is stand in his father's way, should his father believe that there is a better situation. There's the saving grace though: better situation. There isn't a better one for Self in college, so that's out. Oklahoma City, because of its young talent (Durant, Westbrook) and to a much lesser degree because it's in Self's home state, would have appeal. San Antonio, because one of Self's closest friends is the GM, also has appeal. But more appealing than the Kansas job? I would think as competitive as Self is he'd like to see how many conference titles in a row he could reel off and is hungry for another national title. OKC does have appeal. More than KU? Not in my opinion.

Aaron Paisley 7 years, 2 months ago

The negative to the OKC job at this point is that it appears KD wants out as he said today he plans on entering free agency after next season. The other big question is his foot injury. KD is a big man and once big men his size start having foot issues, it tends to be the start of the end for them. Bill Walton is probably the best example of this. There's a reason why he's considered one of the greatest college players of all time, but he started having foot problems and his NBA career never became what it was supposed. Yao Ming is the same situation, a HOF talent derailed by bad feet.

The two biggest issues with the OKC job is Kevin Durant's foot, and his desire to leave OKC. Russell Westbrook is a great player (arguably a top 5 player), but he's not good enough on his own to get OKC to the playoffs as we saw this year. If KD is gone, how long does Westbrook stay in town? OKC is job that lost a lot of luster once KD's foot failed to heal properly because that is now a major concern.

John Fitzgerald 7 years, 2 months ago

Self is an obvious candidate for OKC and I obviously hope he stays at KU, but I hope Fred Hoiberg stays at ISU as well, because in my opinion he is also a great candidate. It would be a big hit for the Big 12 to lose him, even if we hate losing to his teams. I honestly see Kevin Ollie or Billy Donovan taking the job though. Let's hope, at least.

Adam Tyler 7 years, 2 months ago

You really think they will hire elves?

Seems a bit festive, but NBA does love their Christmas Day games!

:)

Joseph Leon 7 years, 2 months ago

The decision to trade James Harden is one of the most infuriating decisions since I can recall. Can you imagine that team with the current James Harden? And a more rested Durant and Westbrook as a result. Ugh! I would have loved to watch that team play.

Adam Tyler 7 years, 2 months ago

Is this a big enough job opening for Calapari?

It's not a big market, or traditional powerhouse, but is a great situation with 2 of the top players in the NBA.

Calapari will not fail twice at the NBA level, because he will be selective in the job he takes this time around.

Joseph Bullock 7 years, 2 months ago

Coach Self is not going to leave Kansas any time in the near future! It isn't about money (See Pickens), it is about Kansas always being his dream job. And when he does finally decide to move on, it will most likely be after we get another National Championship, or at least gets to a couple more Final Fours (and I truly believe we will, in the very near future), and it will also be when Danning Manning is ready to take over!

Bryce Landon 7 years, 2 months ago

You seriously think we're going to sniff a Final Four, let alone another national title, when Self repeatedly gets clowned in the NCAA Tournament by FCS programs? I'd like whatever it is you're sniffing.

Mike Ford 7 years, 2 months ago

I live locally and go to two Thunder games a season. I went to the Kings Thunder game a couple of weeks ago and I went to see the Bucks Thunder game in December. I saw the game on November 21, 2008, where the Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets beat the OKC Thunder 105-80, when PJ Carlesimo was fired and Scott Brooks took over. I found a program from that game with a young Kevin Durant on the front the other night. That was the first Thunder game I went to.

The main reason college coaches don't like the NBA is because in the NBA they can't be the be all end all power mongers they are on college campuses. Rick Pitino found out at Boston that if one throws tantrums and yells they're ignored. He went back to Louisville and the mythology of values and tradition that is college campuses. KU is this way.

I've followed KU Basketball since Darnell Valentine, David Magley, and Ron Kellogg, not to forget seeing Danny Manning play HS ball and being on Jayhawk BLVD in 1988 and on Mass ST. in 2003, 2008, and 2012.

I as a rabid Thunder fan with NBA League Pass am kind of mystified by this firing. How can someone determine ceiling for a coach without a healthy team? taking a team from 3 wins and 12 losses to 45 wins and 37 losses is no slouch job. I was waiting for the switch to go off once the Thunder got over .500. It didn't quite happen. Russell Westbrook played out of his mind and the new supporting cast wasn't half bad. Play calling was a problem though. We would've gotten waxed by the Warriors as an #8 seed and we have a lottery pick now so I'm not as bummed by missing the playoffs. I'll see what next season holds.

As for KU and Bill Self I'll spell it out. Does KU want to be the school that gets the players that don't go to Kentucky or Duke with the lack of chemistry with one and dones or do they want to find the next Collisons or Hinrichs and build and reload every couple of years? The WSU Shockers are the latter and they handled KU in the NCAA Tourney. Maybe someone should've looked for a couple of Conner Frankamps in state and built with them over a couple of seasons to keep the KU mythologists happy. I watched the 16 point a game NBA player Andrew Wiggins on NBA League Pass and remembered how all the KU mythologists were on his back. If you want a player like that adjust your team system for a player like him. This problem goes back to Paul Pierce's days at KU.

Bill Self will stay at KU but remember dealing with veteran NBA players who aren't afraid is a lot harder than dealing with 20 year olds who are.

Bryce Landon 7 years, 2 months ago

If Bill Self wants to go to Oklahoma City, let him. I'm tired of bad losses in the NCAA Tournament every year. Bring in someone else who can handle his business against Missouri Valley schools in the first weekend of the Dance.

Allison Steen 7 years, 2 months ago

I don't get the obsession on losing to an FCS program. Every team is capable in the tournament. Wichita State was the 13th ranked team in the country, they were a good, solid team. We didn't lose to a 15 seed. Why won't you let it go? You're a broken record, and he isn't getting fired so you may as well forget about it. Firing Bill Self would be 17 times worse than firing Mangino, and people still aren't over that one yet.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 2 months ago

I dont get you Bryce, it reminds me a lot of what my teenager may say, with his as-yet fledgling level of analytical skill and awareness of details. In your mind is it any different at all what happened in the Elite 8 loss to Michigan vs the 2nd round exits the last 2 years (Stanford, WSU)?

Do you have any understanding of the statistical aberrations we saw the last 2 seasons? Do you then have any understanding of why the last 2 teams sufferred in some major categories? (Here's a hint: same coach, same system, but what are the major variables?)

I'll make it even simpler for those with Bryce's analytical shortcomings: Self's system is BEST served by experienced athletes executing his stuff. We've seen enough different sets of players do it well, spanning back to his 1999 Tulsa Elite8 32-5 squad (with no McDAAs)...but we've seen Self's younger squads suffer, because they werent tough enough, werent physical enough to bang with upperclassment, couldnt run the sets with the proper timing, and just plain didnt have enough of the offense installed making them pretty vanilla (compared to the 08Champs "toolkit"), and much easier to scout. Notice even the presence of uber-talent like Wiggins or Embiid doesnt necessarily save us. It takes a team to be on the same page.

So, hope this helps the sore-loser-KU-fans (who are in it for bragging rights) like our dear Bryce...(bless his heart...)

Honestly, going 6-5 in our last 11 games, who here thinks we were "final 4 good"? Anybody? The 08Champs would have beat the shiz out of the '14 team, and the '13 team. And the '12RunnerUp Hawks had about twice the heart of the '14 team, and also had legit post size and presence (TRob + Withey).

Oh, did I mention injuries: Perry's knee (never the same), Selden's knee (who knows), Greene's torn hip labrum since Feb. (we never knew, and he wasnt the same), Traylor with a strained hip x 2mos...Hey, lets just say Mason and Graham need some help! It would be sheer lunacy to think this team was in any shape to end up in the Final 4.

So to any others out there with Bryce's elemental level of understanding, why dont y'all stew on your big fat L to WichitaState, and try to come up with actual reasons for the team's performance. Its right there in front of your nose on the gamefilm. Tape doesnt lie. Get a clue. (or about 10+ clues/reasons this team was on life support). Oh, but the coach still got them to be a 2seed, although they were playing like a top20-25 squad late, not a top10 squad...

Tracey Graham 7 years, 2 months ago

There's been absolutely no indication that the Thunder have any interest in Bill Self. They are targeting Kevin Ollie because he played with Durant and Westbrook before he retired from the NBA. There's also speculation they might go after Tom Thibodeaux if he and the Bulls part ways. Again, Thibs has worked with Durant and Westbrook before (on Team USA). I think Billy Donovan has some connection to Durant as well. KD is a free agent after next season -- the Thunder are going to try and bring in a head coach who already has ties to Durant so (hopefully) they can keep him from leaving as a FA.

Allison Steen 7 years, 2 months ago

Didn't Durant say like two weeks ago that he wanted to retire with OKC?

Mike Ford 7 years, 2 months ago

Are comments critical of college sports considered removable if they don't agree with the majority? Again I've followed KU basketball for 30 years and the NBA for almost 40 years. I go to both KU and OKC Thunder games. College coaches cannot wield the same authority in an NBA locker room as they do at the college level. That's why few of them translate to the NBA. The Pitinos and Caliparis have failed and have returned to authoritarian roles on campuses. There is kind of a college atmosphere at Thunder games but I go watch them on the screen and in person because of the energy and the athletic nature of THAT GAME. I doubt Coach Self ever leaves because it's fun to be part of the mythology. I go watch the MEN play in OKC.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 2 months ago

I think the folks in my home state of Oklahoma would have reservations about hiring a college coach who's teams creep up on the scent of victory and then fold up in the finals.

Robert Brock 7 years, 2 months ago

Hey, Thunder fans - Bill Self could teach your players how to run "The Weave." Durant could pretend he is a Shriner in his little car and he could wear a Fez hat. Whee!

Benton Smith 7 years, 2 months ago

Honestly, I think this is the biggest reason OKC won't even be interested in Self. One of OKC's biggest issues under Brooks was that the team had these dynamic superstars and willing team players and the offense often remained uninventive or stagnant unless KD or Westbrook were just on fire.

Self would probably help them improve defensively, but that's not their biggest issue.

I think OKC would only go hard after Self if Durant and Westbrook said they were really interested in that happening, and I don't know why that scenario would actually play out.

Michael Lorraine 7 years, 2 months ago

If I were the GM of any NBA team I would be reluctant to hire a college coach. Most have not been able to make the transition from college to pro. Ironically, one who has not fared to badly is Quin Snyder although he did not get there in the conventional way.

Erich Hartmann 7 years, 2 months ago

Bill Self ties to KU: grad asst here. Met Cindy (wife) in Lawrence. Both kids KU (1 student Tyler, 1 grad Lauren). $52mil 10-yr contract signed last year. Royalty program status (which T.Boone Pickens could not manufacture in his bid to "buy" Self back to Okie State). His system, his stamp, his push to improve the facilities...ever since 2008, this program is Bill Self. But if you ask him, he is merely a 'caretaker' for the legacy that Roy, Larry, Ted, Phog all served. Bill Self is leaving his own legacy here, and he aint done. Hard to leave a legacy in the NBA coaching ranks of today. The days of Phil Jackson/zen-master of the Chicago Bulls with MJ are long gone...

Waylon Cook 7 years, 2 months ago

You nailed that Erich.

Also most Thunder fans are also OU fans so they have ridiculous expectations for a team. I have a feeling the Donovan thing is a train wreck waiting to happen but I could be wrong.

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