Almost a decade after getting his first shot at being an NBA head coach, it seems that Keith Smart has finally found a team that appreciates his knowledge of the game as well as his work ethic. Smart became interim head coach of the Sacramento Kings when he took over for former coach Paul Westphal, after Westphal was shown the door after starting out the campaign with a 2-5 record. The former Kings coach was also at odds with talented young big man DeMarcus Cousins and it became clear the two could not co-exist on the same team. With Sacramento looking as Cousins as a major building block for their squad; the choice was quite easy for them to decide who had to go.
I had the pleasure of covering Coach Smart during his first time as an NBA bench boss, when he replaced former Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Lucas during the 2002-2003 campaign. Smart was a young assistant who had risen quickly through the ranks of the Cavaliers organization and he was put on the fast track after the club dismissed Lucas in the middle of his second year as the team’s head coach.
Unfortunately for the talented young assistant, he was put in what was basically a no-win situation as the Cavaliers were a terrible club then. It was a locker room full of jaded veterans and egotistical young players with an inflated sense of their own worth. Even worse was that due to injury, the team was playing for most of the campaign without a point guard and the General Manager at the time, Jim Paxson, refused to sign even an NBDL player to fill the void. Cleveland would end up with the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, but Smart was without a job at the end of the year.
Keith would move on to become an assistant with the Golden State Warriors and was a fixture on their bench for many seasons. Just before the start of the 2010-2011 campaign, Warriors management decided to fire long time head coach Don Nelson and Smart was given his second opportunity to be a head coach in the Association. They would end the regular season with a record of 36-46 and did not make the Playoffs and once again Smart was looking for a new job at the end of the year.
Although it would take a miraculous finish for Sacramento to make the Post Season this year, Kings Team Owner Joe Maloof told “SI.com” earlier this week that the team would almost certainly pickup Smart’s option for next season, meaning Smart will be back on the bench next year. Maloof said “With no disrespect to our past coaches, we really have someone who everybody likes now. The players like him, the basketball staff likes him, we trust him, and he knows the game. Keith Smart is a wonderful coach, and we’re lucky to have him. … Yes, we’ll pick it up. We want him to be our coach forever.”
It is always good to see when hard-working conscientious people get rewarded for their efforts and finally after being in the wrong place at the wrong time his first two chances running an NBA franchise; Smart has found a team that appreciates every thing that he brings to the table. The Kings have some young talented players on their squad and this time Smart is being given the time to make this team his own.