Keith Smart tries to get Isaiah Thomas's attention, fails (Rocky Widner/ Getty).
Although they're still obligated to play an 82-game schedule, the Sacramento Kings franchise is less a basketball team than a battleground these days. With Chris Hansen's prospective Seattle ownership group looming and Sacto mayor (and former NBA All-Star) Kevin Johnson doing everything he can to save the team in the 11th hour, the last few months have been all about the viability of each plan and the court of public opinion. The team is secondary, and that's only more the case now that 1) the season is almost over and 2) the NBA's Board of Governors will vote on the sale to the Seattle group relatively soon.
Still, the Sacramento Kings are a basketball team that employs 13 young men looking to build and/or extend their NBA careers, whether with this franchise or another down the road. So, even if the team may not play in Sacramento much longer, it's news that several players are fed up with head coach Keith Smart's inconsistent rotations. From James Ham for Cowbell Kingdom:
“It’s just tough as a player,” starting point guard Isaiah Thomas said following Friday night’s loss to the Mavericks. “I always say that when you have inconsistent minutes, you’re going to have inconsistent production.
“It’s nothing we can control,” Thomas continued. “It’s how coach Smart likes to coach and you just got to go with it and always be ready at all times, because you never really know when you’re going to go in the game or come out.” [...]
Players come in and out of the rotation, never knowing exactly when they will play substantial minutes or who they may be paired with on the floor. For most, it is unnerving.
“A little bit, it’s a little frustrating,” Tyreke Evans said when asked if Smart’s rotations were wearing on him. “Everybody’s frustrated. This is the NBA and when the rotation don’t go right for us, we’ve got to be professional. We’ve got to learn to hear our coach. If he don’t make the right subs with somebody, you can’t be mad. Whoever’s out there just got to work.”
Thomas's comments are stronger than those of Evans, but the fact that either player was willing to talk on this subject says a lot about Smart's status. With new ownership coming soon (in either city) and the Kings sporting a 47-89 record over Smart's time as coach, he will almost certainly be let go this summer. With that in mind, players are willing to criticize his methods and perhaps even deflect some blame for the team's performance.
Any player can struggle with inconsistent rotations, but it's easy to see how it could be an even greater problem for the members of the Kings. A change in ownership is a scary prospect for a player, because it brings new values that might not align with the decisions (or lack thereof) that brought that person to the team in the first place. That's especially true of the Kings, a fairly dysfunctional franchise that's had absolutely no stability or long-term plan beyond "cut costs" over the past few years. With a new era coming, the current players only have a few more games to prove themselves and show that they can be part of an effective vision for the franchise. When Smart plays around with minutes and changes rotations on a whim, it does little to help those players' careers.
This situation helps crystallize the short-term harm of the end of the Maloof era in Sacramento. Smart is the coach in part because he is cheap and was already on the staff when Paul Westphal was deposed early in the 2011-12 season. Few observers ever claimed that he was one of the best options on the market — he was simply there. His ineffective methods have impeded certain players' progress, compounded an already uncertain atmosphere, and given the team little to depend on moving forward. While Smart is certainly to blame for many of those problems, it's also true that he wouldn't be have ever been put in that position to fail if the Maloofs had run the team with any sort of long-term vision or responsibility.
Our focus is understandably on the Kings' future in Sacramento right now, but it's important to remember that there are already several losers in this ownership struggle. Players, coaches, and employees have all been put in an awful situation in which success has been next-to-impossible. No matter who ends up with the Kings, the new owners will have to preside over a basketball team in a state of utter disrepair.
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