HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Only time will tell if Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins will live up to his immense potential or if Keith Smart will indeed have staying power as a coach in the NBA.
We can close the book on one thing: the Kings (specifically co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloofs) made the right decision changing coaches — from Paul Westphal to Smart eight games ago. That change had to happen, and not just for Cousins but for an entire team in need of a change in mood and direction.
The Kings are 3-5 since Smart took over for Westphal — that’s not exactly playoff-ready and is a mark that probably doesn’t have the Western Conference elite worried about them. But the difference in this team’s confidence is evident. They’ve shown a resilience and cohesion that was simply absent under Westphal, battling back from huge deficits to win games (last night’s win over Indiana being the latest such effort) that could have easily been blowout losses added to their pile.
Blaming the former coach for all that went wrong would be more than a little shortsighted on our part, so we’ll stop right here and point out the shared responsibility of all involved (coaches, players, front office, etc.). Still, a team that looked like a complete dysfunctional mess just a few weeks ago is at least showing signs of life now.
Sometimes a different voice, a different approach, is what it takes to get through to a team. Take Smart’s approach to his power forward rotation, per the Sacramento Bee (courtesy of my main man Jason Jones):
“I’m trying to create an environment where the power forward position is a partnership where no one is being demoted or upgraded over the next player,” Smart said. “I want to be able to write down tonight I’m expecting 20 points and 10 rebounds from that group and they form a partnership.”
That’s not just coach-speak. Those are the words of a man that has studied the situation and devised a reasonable plan for a group of young players (in this case, forwards J.J. Hickson and Jason Thompson) that he knows have to be brought along a certain way. Kudos to Smart for forging his own path.
Smart’s professed leadership approach — “I never come to practice down. I’m the leader of this team. If I come in moping and dragging, they’re dragging as well. I come in upbeat and get them on the floor to work. I have to set the tone. I can’t wait for a player or another coach to set it, so the morale will always be high … .” — is the perfect tone for a franchise trying to nurture young talents like Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette and others along the path to success in the NBA.
And it won’t be easy. There will be plenty of bumps along the way, as there should be when you are trying to take a franchise from one end of the NBA spectrum to the other.
Whatever the Kings’ long-term plan is, though, it will have to be one catered to the talent on hand the talent acquired in the future. Making sure you have the right coach on hand to help develop that talent is the only way this process works.