Seven games into the 2011-12 season, the hammer fell on Paul Westphal and assistant coach Keith Smart was thrown into the fire. An oddly timed apparent trade request from a DeMarcus Cousins/Westphal spat, which was later to be found exaggerated (apparently) matched with an ill-fated press release from Westphal himself sealed his fate giving Smart the keys to this Ferrar, uh, mini-van.
To say Smart had his work cut out for him would be a slight understatement. From an on-court perspective, the Kings were a seemingly lost cause, but more then that, Smart had to re-gain control of a team lost by Westphal – namely DeMarcus Cousins.
Reaching out to his challenging star, Smart and Cousins exchanged keys and keycodes to their respective gated communities, opening their homes to each other – both enjoying dinners with the other, building a strong bond. A bond that as the season progressed, seemed to appear tighter as the days grew older, Cousins even donning Smart’s coaching jacket towards the end of the season in a good will gesture. The Baton Rogue native had a lot going against him as he took over the Kings franchise, but his ability to mesh with a variety of different personalities helped him maintain a level of respect over a once lost team.
Despite finishing as one of the leagues worst teams from a record standpoint yet again, the Kings did show some statistical improvement. After a 17 win 2008-09 season, good for a .207 win percentage, the Kings finished at their highest point in four seasons with a .333 (.339 under Smart) winning percentage, despite the lockout shortened season. No, nothing to feel good about, but if you’re looking for a silver lining, there’s a shimmer there.
For the glass half empty types, there’s plenty to chew on. The Kings, statistically, dropped negatively across the board. While their points per game and steals were up, overall, their rebounds, field goal percentage, three point percentage, assists and blocks all fell in league ranks when compared to the previous season, something that would normally sound an alarm.
With a lockout shortened season and a coaching change within the first few contests, it’s difficult to get a real good feel as it pertains to Smart and his ability to handle the head coaching duties of the Kings. While we didn’t see anything significant in terms of on-court improvement, we did see a chemistry slowly developing off-court, which in due time, breeds effectiveness on-court. Smart didn’t do anything worthy of a high grade, but, he didn’t fall flat on his face either. The ability to connect with DeMarcus Cousins was a huge plus though, which helps him in his final season grade.
Season Grade: C+