Posted by: natehughart | January 29, 2012

Can Keith Smart save the Kings?

I tend to listen to things, and let things percolate. Am I still frustrated by Tyreke Evans and his, or what I see it as anyway, limiting and clownball level of play? Yes. But that’s a lot of what last night’s tweets and post was about.

That doesn’t mean I think Keith Smart is an idiot, or what he’s saying is necessarily right in his post-game interviews. I get Smart is in an impossible position, that if Smart is lucky, will end up with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins backing him enough to the point where Smart can continue to push at them to grow as players.

If you haven’t seen the presser of Smart’s last night, I thought it was interesting (also entertaining but that’s only the political side of it) from a number of vantages. Smart contradicted himself, IMO, when he said that the guys were running plays that we want run, and then noted Tyreke Evans took a couple of quick shots that weren’t advised. Maybe I’m not understanding the distinction though on that one.

I did find the “we need to study the scouting reports” bit by Hayes and Smart from today’s Bee by Jason Jones frustrating. This quote I found particularly interesting:

“As we went through our personnel (Saturday) morning, Chuck’s sitting on the side and really helping communicate what certain players can do, and that’s what you need from a veteran on a young ballclub,” Smart said.

Also, this is what Hayes is quoted as in Jones’ story:

As Hayes put it, good teams “prepare well,” and that is something he wants his teammates to learn.

“I had some great vets,” Hayes said. “And I had some superstars like Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. I’ve been with stars in their prime and I’ve been with stars past their primes and just being professionals, so I get it.”

Finally, there is a tremendous piece by James Ham at Cowbell Kingdom that illustrates the questions around Tyreke really remain.

Here is a good portion of the piece:

Something is still wrong. Coach Westphal was the first to pay the price for the Kings struggles. Certainly Westphal had faults. For one, Westphal did not believe that all players should be handled with the same approach. While DeMarcus Cousins constantly received what can only be deemed tough love, Evans was instead nurtured, maybe even coddled. Neither approach seemed to have the desired effect.

Two things have to be said. Not every individual can be handled differently so therefore it’s difficult for me to disagree with Westphal’s approach on this matter. But it is very illustrative of how insecure both Evans and Cousins are that handling of two different personalities has caused as many problems as it is. This is nothing new to the NBA, but it is a problem any way you slice it.

The second part of this is that Tyreke Evans was coddled, and hopefully the good part of that is that Tyreke realizes you can’t simply act that way and be an effective NBA player. But the bad part is that transition from someone who realizes that reality and someone who doesn’t is often an ugly painful process that Keith Smart is doing everything in his power to overturn and move forward with.

As far as Cousins goes, Cousins is a loud and noisy personality which leads to the unfortunate bi-product that there is no easy way to deal with our growing basketball player. The good news is that I think Cousins will transition from the rougher spots than Evans will simply because Cousins hasn’t been coddled as often and seems eager to shed some of the more detrimental parts to his personality in part due to some of the criticism.

Here is probably the most important part of Jimmer Ham’s piece:

So while we talk about what position he plays or what style of game he should play or why he is struggling, the only thing we should be talking about is whether or not Evans is the player that can lead his team to victory. Scoring or passing, defending or rebounding, Evans is the guy who needs to find a way each and every night to make his team better than their opponent. If he can do this, the sky is the limit. Until then, the Kings will continue to struggle and Evans will be just a player on a bad team.

These are my sentiments exactly.

******

The emotional tug of war that is going on between Tyreke Evans and the franchise, Keith Smart, teammates like Cousins, and other teammates is obvious. It’s killing this team’s chemistry because what this Kings team need is for Evans and Cousins to take this team where it needs to really go. While the pieces around Evans/Cousins, Salmons and Thornton especially, doesn’t really fit with Evans from a conceptual standpoint, Evans is more than talented to make up some of the gaps, the real gaps, that exist on this team right now. But Evans lacks the commitment, IN MY OPINION, to do so right now. You have the right to disagree, but unless you can refute my opinion with hard fact (which would be impossible) then you’re going to have accept we won’t agree.

Kevin Love is part of a franchise with a stinker of an owner in Glen Taylor (the real worm in the Wolves apple–as any real Wolves fan will tell you), and a mumbling bumbling moron in the press in David Kahn. Yet, at the same time, the commitment from Love to improve himself even if the team around him wasn’t was always there for him. That commitment had nothing to do with the Wolves. It said a lot about Kevin Love, and still does, how willing he was to do what it took to win games in Minnesota. Given that a major story line of the current NBA season with Dwight Howard revolves around just that, I don’t see how you can overlook any of this as being churlish or out of order. Which makes my point here rather simple if not convoluted: Good culture starts with players who demand such a culture. Who will do that on the Kings as the roster is currently constituted? Especially if it’s not your two best “players”?

Can Keith Smart save the Kings? Can he convince Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins that the natural tendencies both display are not conducive to winning NBA basketball? Can Smart get the other guys on the team to buy in? (I think he has already honestly.) Can Keith Smart take advantage of the fact that he is not a hot coaching prospect (right or wrong) to reach two thorny prospects (which is putting it kindly) who have the potential of making the Kings significantly better?

From my vantage, which is admittedly limited given that I do not live in Sacramento, it’s that Keith Smart has ridiculously terrible waters to navigate as a head coach with a rotten ownership, a basketball operations headed by someone more interested in preserving his own legacy than doing the appropriate thigns to right the ship, and two young players who are as interested in their fame as they are interested in being great basketball players.

Can Keith Smart save this franchise from itself? I don’t know and the odds are against him. But there is a point that should be reminded by a longtime Sactown Royalty feller named Otis that should be rehashed:

At what point has Geoff Petrie built a winning team for a coach that was not Rick Adelman? Right now, Geoff Petrie, the Maloofs are to blame. And too many people would give them credit (unfortunately that includes yours truly) for allowing time to work it’s course if the season ended up differently right now.

Guess what? A strong culture starts with players willing to be accountable, and coaching staff/basketball management working together to make it happen. How can anyone claim that the good ship Kings is working in appropriate order? Keith Smart has done everything he can to hold players accountable, starting with Evans and Cousins, and has done everything in his power, it seems to me, to put as many players as he can in positions to succeed. This roster still has real holes, starting with the SF spot where Salmons is clearly miscast, and it has no real ability long term to fix those holes without competent and deft strokes from Petrie to help this franchise recover to even what should be a playoff team.

The bottom line, at the end of the day, is that this franchise needs centerpieces and/or building blocks. The Kings need those players to be Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Neither of whom happen to be ready for such a thing at this point for a variety of reasons. We could talk about Salmons falling off a cliff and falling face first onto the rocks at the bottom of a cliff then getting up and playing as if said incident really happened. We could talk about Thornton being a gunner and not the right fit with Evans or how Jimmer is not benefitting from this environment. We could talk about JJ Hickson and what a stinkpot of a first month plus he has had in a Kings uniform. We could talk about the progress of Jason Thompson, what kind of real potential does Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt hold for the Kings long term. None of that adds up to anything as important as whether or not the Maloofs are competent owners, whether Petrie should remain as head of basketball operations, can Keith Smart do the job as a head coach, and whether Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins are up to the tasks as franchise saviors.

Of all the important things I just listed, the Maloofs/Petrie/Smart factors all add up to a COMBINED less importance than whether or not Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins grow up. History of the NBA says that players like Evans and Cousins will grow up. On their 2nd or 3rd teams when reality finally sinks in about what it takes to succeed at the NBA level. That’s the bottom line. That’s why I continue to focus so heavily on those issue’s because, in reality, whether the Maloofs are still owners is based a lot on what location they are allowed to remain ownership in. (Also the potential terms of a new arena in Sacramento if the NBA deems that is the location they wish to be a part of.) Other than whether the Kings will be in Sacramento, no other issue remains as critical or necessary to discuss on a daily basis as to if Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins can grow up while in a Kings uniform. That question very much remains up in the air regardless of your opinion or how you feel about my opinion.

I personally think the Kings should give Keith Smart a 5 year contract just for being willing to take this stinkpot of a job. It’s no longer a question of whether Smart deserves the Kings at this point; it’s simply whether the Kings deserve Keith Smart and his passion/intelligence/willingness for the job. Because right now, if there is anything that is made clear about the performance of this franchise on/off the court, it’s that there is very little to write home about. For what certainly would be a surprising change of pace, it would be nice to see if Keith Smart could be one of those bright spots.

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Responses

  1. I think at some point, it has to be taken into account (by the franchise) that Tyreke, gifted as he is physically, might not be the player they assumed.

    Again, that doesn’t take away from the ability he has – which is good – but you need more than just physical gifts at this level. Despite his injury issues of last year, Evan’s should show far more progression from the mental standpoint than he has. There’s no doubt, given his natural ability, he would be an absolute beast if/when he ever learns the game. For the Kings though, how long do you wait on that risk? There’s a very good chance he eventually does come to realize the mental aspect of the game – but there’s just as solid a chance he doesn’t.

    It’s a tough situation.

    • I wish I could give this comment a gold star. Well said.

      For me the problem is that Evans is a 1st banana talent with a 2nd banana attitude. Cousins is a 2nd banana talent with a 1st banana attitude. So even if Smart solves the real problems plaguing this group right now, the long term dynamic of these two is another issue. How does one fix that? There isn’t an easy fix and unfortunately we are left to follow a franchise that cant handle this dynamic based on early results so far.

      This is frustrating to say the least.


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