Kings coach Keith Smart will return next season, according to Sacramento co-owner Joe Maloof.
In a wide-ranging interview with SI.com on Thursday night, Maloof -- whose family appears to be on the verge of remaining in Sacramento after reaching a tentative arena agreement with city officials on Monday -- said it's a formality that the Kings will exercise Smart's team option for 2012-13. The former Golden State coach was promoted from Kings assistant in early January when Paul Westphal was fired after a 2-5 start. Sources had said previously that the team was leaving its options open to possibly land a bigger-name coach this summer.
It might seem premature to a lot of people that Keith Smart is getting extended another year through this contract. The Kings haven't been all that good this season, and Smart has obviously not been too much of an improvement over Paul Westphal record-wise.
That being said, there have been several multiple improvements.
Smart has gotten through to DeMarcus Cousins. While Cousins isn't always happy while he's playing and still struggles through bouts of inconsistency, Cousins doesn't play quite as out of control and doesn't quite isolate the ball as much as he used to. There are still bouts of immaturity to deal with, but Smart seems to be managing him better.
Smart inserted Isaiah Thomas as the starting point guard. Smart quickly jettisoned the Jimmer Experiment and put Thomas into the lineup, recognizing the team needed someone to run the offense and Tyreke Evans worked better off the ball. Sacramento's offense has improved in multiple facets since Thomas took over running things.
Smart has the Kings moving the basketball a lot better. It's not just Thomas, but the entire Kings team that seems to do a better job of distributing the basketball. Ever since Thomas entered the starting lineup, Sacramento has been able to move the ball and rack up the assists, and it's not just the point guard racking up dimes. Everyone's passing a bit more than they used to.
Smart has the Kings losing games competitively. When it was Westphal coaching the team, you could be guaranteed that half the time the loss would be disastrous. Those games occasionally come, but Sacramento generally competes hard in all their losses and doesn't totally check out of contests. In many games Sacramento has lost this year, they had a decent shot of winning the game. This is an upward trend.
Smart still has to do a few more things, like improve the team defense (still abhorrent) and get the Kings to play more consistently, but the team doesn't look like the lost cause it was a month ago.
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