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Kings sign Smart as head coach… for two years?

So Paul Westphal was fired today
as head coach of the Sacramento Kings. That’s not really
surprising, given the disappointing start to the season for the Kings and the
continuing discord between Westphal, star power forward DeMarcus Cousins,
and the general unrest in the locker room. Assistant coach Keith Smart was
assigned as head coach for the time being, then immediately upgraded to interim
coach. OK, that makes sense. Smart’s been interim coach for two different teams
in the past, has a lot of experience, and the Kings could use a steady hand and
won’t want to pay the money to essentially bring on a second coach when they have
to pay out the rest of Westphal’s contract.

This all makes a modicum of sense, at least in the way that most NBA things do.

But then there’s this.

The Kings have signed Smart for two years, with the deal guaranteed through
2013.

Sorry, come again?

The Kings have just committed to two years of a very qualified, very
well-respected interim coach…who went 36-46 with the Warriors last year. The
Kings are in a crucial position right now. They have to get Cousins back on the
track to not only calming down emotionally, but contributing efficiently on the
court. Tyreke
Evans has to get sorted out because his game is mess right now. Marcus Thornton
has to learn how to play off the ball. The team has to learn what a pass is.
There’s a world of work to be done, and if it goes wrong, it’s going to set the
franchise back another two to three seasons.

Which is why you don’t buy the cow just because you know it can produce milk of
some kind.

I want to be clear, it’s not that Smart can’t work out. For all we know this
could wind up as a genius signing if Smart pulls a Thunder Brooks and takes
the team to the next level. It’s a different situation entirely in a lot of
ways but “young team with talent struggles, fires its coach and finds its
answer from within” is not an impossible scenario. But you want to leave
yourself an out.

Putting Smart in for the rest of the year gives you the ability to look for an
upgrade at season’s end. If someone is looking to get back into coaching and
likes what he’s seen of the Kings and is an upgrade on Smart, why not take a
look at him? If Smart really does excel, you can always re-sign him or extend
him. Even make the second year non-guaranteed. It’s great to give a coach your
confidence and the ability to coach without fear for his job. But you’re not
worried about this year in terms of wins and losses. You’re worried about the
next four years.

The terrifying element behind this for Kings fans is that it seems
financially-related. Getting Smart now at a cheap price keeps their costs low.
It seems like a move made not for what’s best for the team, but to cover for
the financial impact of Westphal without risking Smart’s price going up. And
for a team in the Kings’ situation, they can’t afford to not afford what’s best
for the organization.

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