Two things are true about Keith Smart: He is genuinely a great dude, and he has been dealt a tough hand.
The Sacramento Kings coach has navigated his way through a turbulent season, faced with a mismatched roster of young, immature players. Smart lacks a true veteran presence on the roster, and thus the onus falls on him to lead this team to success. And despite all the hardships, the agonizing losses like the one Friday night against Dallas, Smart faces the music with a positive attitude. He cares about this team; you can’t possibly question that.
That’s why I’ve got absolutely no problem with his handling of DeMarcus Cousins. It was announced prior to the game that Cousins would not start against the Mavericks due to coach’s decision. What he did is not completely known, though the Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones reported it was for Cousins mouthing off about his coach. If that’s the case, Smart may have been too lenient even letting Cousins see the floor for nine minutes. Until that guy learns and starts acting like a professional, keep punishing him. Cousins has forced Smart to be more of a babysitter than an NBA coach.
Unfortunately, Smart has shown that maybe that’s his best role because being the head coach of an NBA team seems out of his grasp on too many occasions. One needs to look no further than the fourth quarter against the Mavericks. It’s one thing to play guys at the end of the bench who need development, those who figure into the team’s long-term plans. But to remove the starters and insert Travis Outlaw and James Johnson with the game still within reach…there is absolutely no explanation for. It’s dumbfounding.
Either you’re going for the win or you’re developing young talent. The Outlaw-Johnson combination accomplishes neither. And as the game slipped away — a four-point deficit swung to double-digits in mere minutes — Smart stuck to his guns. Dallas coasted to a 117-108 victory.
At the end of the day, the Kings four best players all hit the 36-minute mark. And make no mistake, Smart’s puzzling decisions didn’t cost the Kings this game — awful defense and inconsistent offense were killers. But Smart just hasn’t mastered the art of successful substitution patterns. It is his biggest downfall, and one that ensures he won’t return for another season under new ownership. The middle of the fourth quarter is crunch time; you can’t be taken seriously if you’re playing 11th and 12th men with the game in the balance.
Damn shame because Smart could have been THE guy…the one to get through to Cousins. The Mike Singletary to his Vernon Davis. And even if Smart’s only accomplishment was transforming Cousins into an upstanding member of the team, his tenure would have been a rousing success.
It just wasn’t meant to be. Cousins wasn’t ready. So all the best to you, Coach. You’ll be great as some team’s lead assistant.