The Sacramento Kings have been extremely busy this off-season. Not only have they added seven new players, all of whom will most likely make the opening day roster. But they also swapped out three of their assistant coaches. New players and new coaches are nothing new in the NBA, but that’s a lot of movement for one team in a lockout-shortened off-season.
During media day, the Cowbell Kingdom team had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to new assistant Keith Smart. Smart spent last season as the head coach for the Golden State Warriors, helping the team improve ten games over the previous season’s total. Ten games weren’t enough for the Warriors’ new ownership, and the Sacramento Kings were able to swoop in and land one of the league’s best upcoming coaches to help fill out their staff.
CK: Coming from the Warriors, what would you say is the biggest difference between the team you coached last season and the Kings’ roster this season?
Coach Smart: They (the Kings) are young, they have scorers and they can play a fast pace game, but then they have players that are big. With the Warriors, we never had big guys that rebound. Here, we have speed and a pace that can be played and big guys that can rebound and eventually become good defenders. So that’s where the two kind of separate themselves until now, where the Warriors are starting to get bigger players.
This team is a unique team because they have guys who are really, really good rebounders that can crash the glass and they have a guy who will eventually develop into being a good low post guy. That’s why it’s exciting. They have to develop the chemistry now. Young players all want to showcase themselves to the NBA and to the fans. So if you have seven of them like that, everyone kind of goes their own way. We have to start tying them now to come back together to see what’s more important. Your success determines the team’s success. The team succeeds, everybody succeeds, and you have to get that across to them.
CK: It seems like that is a big part of this season for the Kings. You’ve got your core building blocks in DeMarcus (Cousins) and Tyreke (Evans) and maybe even Marcus (Thornton), and then the team has filtered in solid veteran guys in John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. Is that the approach going forward?
Coach Smart: Yeah, sharing with coach Westphal, I said, you have to get some pros. You know, guys that come to practice early, work on their game at a high rate. I look at John Salmons in drills, yesterday, I said to him in front of the group – “How many years have you been in the NBA?” Salmons said, “nine years.” I said, “guys, look how hard this guy works and he’s a nine year vet. We know what he’s going to be able to do in a game, because he’s proven it already. Now he’s proven it, now he can take breaks in camp, he’s been to nine training camps already, he can take a break. But this guy’s going at a high rate and you guys need to get to that point where you guys are working this hard all the time and hopefully you can have a long career like this young man has.”
Having him (Salmons) and Chuck Hayes, who are pros, these guys, you don’t need to tell them when to get in the weight room or when they need to get on the floor and get extra shots or extra running in. They know as professionals and that’s where the young players need to get to that point. Right now, they are doing it off of natural energy and ability right now.
CK: We spoke about Monta Ellis and the way that you aided his development. Is that one of your jobs here, to take a DeMarcus Cousins, to take a Tyreke Evans and get them not just physically, but mentally to the next level?
Coach Smart: That’s the next level. That’s the next step. Once they’ve acquired what they need to do as far as training, now the next part is what you do mentally. Having had a chance to work with certain guys at Golden State, to get them to start seeing the game from the mental standpoint, that’s the next step for them. To take yourself out of it and see how to get your teammates involved in everything that you’re doing now. You take yourself out and you eventually become elevated because of that. I had a case two practices ago where Tyreke and DeMarcus were both on a break together and we’re in practice. I said, “you’ve got to get that ball to DeMarcus, it can’t even be a thought, it has to be automatic. If he’s running that fast and he’s right next to you on a break, give it to him.” It’s a natural thing you have to do.
So that’s the next step for Tyreke and DeMarcus, to grow up and mentally start paying attention. Looking at film, studying film, understanding – not just watching yourself play, but studying the game to see what you are doing when you are playing. What am I missing when I’m watching this tape? I can give a guy a CD now and he just sees himself playing a game. But he’s missing so much of it. I want to get him to a point to where he actually understands what he is watching.
CK: How has DeMarcus been in camp so far? You weren’t here last season, but I’m sure you’ve talked to the other coaches about him and his demeanor last year. Are you seeing him maturing?
Coach Smart: I said I’m going to come here with a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas and just focus on what we are doing now, as opposed to what may have happened last year. That way I don’t come in with anything pre-conceived already. I can come in and say, “what is he doing now?” Is he better? From everything that I’m hearing, yes, so that’s where I’m starting from. I’m starting from a completely blank canvas and moving forward there.
Of course, I’ve prepared to play against the Kings and I’ve prepared to play against him, so I know things that have happened and things he does. But, as his coach now, I need to leave that behind and focus on the preparation for moving forward. What I can share with him and Tyreke and all the other guys I’ve coached against, is say, this is what we said prior to playing you guys – do this to this guy and you get this result from him. That’s what not only me, but other coaches around the NBA are saying when preparing to play against you. They (the Kings players) can use the tools that they use to get ready for you. Now if I’m thinking that, the other 29 teams around the league are thinking the same way. That’s who you are right now in the NBA’s vision – lets correct some of those (issues).
The Kings front office made a concerted effort this off-season to provide Head Coach Westphal and assistant Jim Eyen with a complimentary staff of veteran coaches. The Kings are trusting that Keith Smart, Jim Todd and former King Bobby Jackson will not only help with the standard coaching duties, but they will also be able to reach a young team that desperately needs maturing. Coach Smart is credited with helping Golden State Warriors’ shooting guard Monta Ellis take his game both physically and mentally to the next level and there is hope that he can have the same type of effect on the Kings’ cornerstones – Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.