Sunday Musings: Sacramento Kings don’t get Smart

Keith Smart directing traffic from the sidelines. (Photo: Steven Chea)

When you look at this 2012-13 Sacramento Kings season, the basketball played on the court has become an afterthought. The potential sale and relocation of the franchise has completely overshadowed an otherwise disappointing year.

Without the chatter of Virginia Beach and then Seattle, the focus would have been on the losing and continuous dysfunction that has plagued this franchise for the better part of seven seasons.

This team was supposed to be better.  A top-five pick and plenty of salary was added.  This was supposed to be a fight for 35-40 wins, priming for a possible playoff push in the 2013-14 season.

But once again, this group of players has proven that they have no chemistry.  They have proven that they are still a collection of individuals and not a team.  And at this point, they have proven that Keith Smart has lost the room.

This is most likely the end of the road for Smart.  We’ve said this before, but be it in Sacramento or Seattle, this franchise is going to start anew from top to bottom.

Could Smart have done anything to avoid this fate?  The answer is an unequivocal yes.

Smart came into this season with the high hopes of putting the pieces together and not only has he failed to accomplish that, but he has been exposed for his obsessive tinkering and irrational rotation patterns.

Smart’s decision-making has been called into question, and we aren’t just talking about his choice to play DeMarcus Cousins nine minutes on Friday night.  It has worn heavily on both fans and players for some time and now the clock is ticking.

“It’s just tough as a player,” starting point guard Isaiah Thomas said following Friday night’s loss to the Mavericks.  “I always say that when you have inconsistent minutes, you’re going to have inconsistent production.

“It’s nothing we can control,” Thomas continued.  “It’s how coach Smart likes to coach and you just got to go with it and always be ready at all times, because you never really know when you’re going to go in the game or come out.”

While he doesn’t have a roster of NBA All-Star’s, Smart consistently coaches to his opponent and rarely takes advantage of potential mismatches.  He is a reactionary strategist and chronic dabbler.  There is no set nine, 10 or even 11-man rotation 76 games into an 82-game schedule.

Players come in and out of the rotation, never knowing exactly when they will play substantial minutes or who they may be paired with on the floor.  For most, it is unnerving.

“A little bit, it’s a little frustrating,” Tyreke Evans said when asked if Smart’s rotations were wearing on him.  “Everybody’s frustrated.  This is the NBA and when the rotation don’t go right for us, we’ve got to be professional.  We’ve got to learn to hear our coach.  If he don’t make the right subs with somebody, you can’t be mad.  Whoever’s out there just got to work.”

The problem is that every night there is a moment where there is a collective sigh in the audience.  Be it live or through a television set, thousands of people are left collectively scratching their heads.

Patrick Patterson, Travis Outlaw and James Johnson on the floor together in the fourth quarter of a winnable home game against Dallas?  Marcus Thornton scoring 21 points in 22 minutes one game and logging 5:37 the next?  There is no rhyme or reason to any of this.

We have said this so many times before, but Smart is a very good man.  He is the type of coach that parents would like their kids to play for.  But, he was supposed to be the guy that would break through to Cousins.  He was supposed to be the guy who could improve the defense and get more out of less.

The Kings have enough talent to beat the NBA’s best on one night and get blown out by a bad team the next.  They are a 27-win squad that has left six games on the table.  They are erratic, undisciplined and have zero identity.

And perhaps the biggest indictment on Smart is that almost every one of his players have taken a step back.

Top 10 picks have spun their tires.  They are the same players or worse than they were a year ago and that is a huge problem.

The rah-rah team building did not work.  It didn’t work because there was no pay off.  They are still a sub-30-win-lottery team.  Players are feeling betrayed and let down and they are beginning to vent.

That is where we are now.  Coach Smart is saying one thing and his players are saying another.  There is no more time left.  This season is a wash in so many ways.

Unfortunately the fans who have fought tooth and nail to keep this team in Sacramento are left watching a group that has moved onto next season.

A season likely without Keith Smart.


James Ham

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