Trust me, Keith Smart had options.
It was just the way Kings Head Coach Paul Westphal struck him during Westphal’s visit to his Bay Area home.
“Coach Paul was incredible as far as the process of trying to get me to come here,” said Smart after the first of two practices on Monday afternoon. “I mean, he came to my house and we sat in my living room for three hours talking about basketball philosophy. And he didn’t have to do that. When the decision came for them to come talk to me, I thought I would have had to come up to Sacramento. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll come visit with you.’ He came up and we sat and talked and I thought that was pretty good. This worked out perfect because it’s right down the highway from my home and I can see my family. My kids in high school and everything. Just being here and having a chance to get back into it again relatively quickly. When you get let go as a head coach, sometimes it doesn’t happen that fast, but I’m back in the teaching fold and learning mode again.”
“I’ve been fortunate to be around coaches that allow you to coach and Paul is one of those coaches as well. He takes input and information that you have and what you want to add to the team and he’s open to all that. It’s a good fit and it worked out really well with me coming here.”
The former head coach of the Golden State Warriors had a record last season of 36-46. But a worse than the Kings road record of 9-32 and the fact that the team never really got newly signed big man and solid rebounder David Lee to fit into what they were trying to accomplish in the East Bay led to his dismissal.
If you remember, Smart is probably known best for his 1987 Final Four heroics when he made a game-winning shot to lead Indiana to a National Championship over highly-touted Syracuse.
Smart has already looked back at what he could have done different in Oakland and intends on learning from past mistakes.
“You look at that you could have went with plays for guys at a certain situations of the game. Percentage-wise, if you go back and look at all the data from the year, you look at that maybe this guy could have done a little bit better in that situation than another guy that I had at that position from time to time. Maybe I should have gone to a particular player in a post up area a little bit more to kind of force the defense to adjust to us a little more. Little things like that.”
“But from managing the team and running a team, which I had a great coach that allowed me to to do a lot of work in Don Nelson, who gave me freedom to run the team and run practice. To have that experience already, that was a plus for me.”
Keith Smart has coaching in his blood.
Even before Don Nelson let him share the pine with him on an NBA bench, Smart was cutting his teeth in the CBA. In his first year as a head coach at any level, he led the Fort Wayne Fury to a franchise-record 31-win season and a spot in the playoffs.
The next season, he did it again. Playoff bound!
While in the CBA, he had an incredible 21 players signed away to NBA contracts. That just screams great coaching.
Smart, who is 47 now, then spent seven years alongside Don Nelson with the Warriors – the longest assistant coaching stint in Golden State history.
Smart knows he has a lot to offer the young Kings’ roster.
“I think that a coach really needs to be hands on in this environment,” said Smart. “Especially with the young players these days leaving school so early. They are still used to a coach being hands on. Until you get to a veteran team to where they pretty much know what they need to do. We need to make sure that we are holding these guys hands to help them to understand how to be a pro. And when they get to that point of being a pro, most of the time your team is going to be better.”
He also thinks that it’s great timing for him because of the influx of so many new players to the team. Another reason is that he can set an example going forward without having to revisit the past.
“I come in blind to everything that may have gone on,” said Smart. “I come in with the idea of teaching and going forward, not so much of looking back because I wasn’t here last year. We have some new pieces, some new players come in and everything fells like its brand new. So for me, I’m able to come in and just look at it from a coaching standpoint and say okay guys I need to do this, I want to do this and move from there as opposed to what went on and what happened and focusing on the negatives. I’m looking at what we can probably do this year to help turn things around and Coach Westphal has been great with all that.”
Coach Smart already sees that this team is unselfish and it started with the teachings of Coach Westphal.
“I think what Coach has done is try and get this team to share the ball, said Smart. “With a young team, that’s always hard because everyone is looking for their own identity. So what he’s tried to do is try and get the players to share and get the coaching staff to have a philosophy of getting them to play with each other and become a team. If they grow as a team, they will get better as a unit and start winning games. If they can understand how important the next guy is, that’s only going to help the team in the long run. And that is what this training camp here is all about.”
Coach Smart and the rest of the coaching staff will first get to see the impact they’ve had on this young team on Saturday, when the Kings travel to Oakland to play Golden State in their first of two preseason games.
On Friday, a look at Thursday’s Media Day and more insight to the season from Kings players.