Does Kenny Natt Have a Case?

As fans, we are not totally privy to conversations between ownership, management and the coaching staff. To be frank, we only know what a) ownership, management or the coaching staff deems appropriate to tell us, or b) what the beat writers and columnists -- those with access -- can fish out. There is no such thing as perfect information in sports; as such, our own opinions need to be weighed down appropriately.

That is a long way of saying: considering how little we really know about the inner machinations of the franchise, we ought to defer to management opinions a bit.

This isn't the case when it comes to analyzing players, plays, units or the like. In that, we have nearly perfect information. We can watch every play of every game. We can access some incredibly advanced statistics comparing players, comparing duos and comparing five-man units. I, for one, have a ton more confidence discussing where a player needs to improve rather than discussing whether Coach A should return or that we should hire Coach B tout de suite. We can gather some ideas about coaches, typically through previous journalism. But so much of that job has to do with day-to-day people managing, and l'esprit du corps, and carrying out tasks sent down from above. We just can't know it all.

So, as Kenny Natt approaches his Waterloo, we ask ourselves "should Natt return?"

Sam Amick publishes Natt's own case:

"I think I've done everything management has asked me to do," Natt said before the Kings routed the Knicks 121-94 on Friday. "Obviously we would love to have had more victories along the way. No one wants to lose. But I think I've done a great job of playing the young guys, making them better, instilling the discipline that they need as young guys to become better pros, professionals in this league, playing the right way, just instilling a lot of the things I've learned along the way as an assistant coach. …

"I think we've made great strides since I've taken over. It's just a matter of having an opportunity to reap the benefits of it."

On the court, in a real, basic, win-or-losses/offense-and-defense sense, the Kings have not made strides, minor or great. The team as a Basketball Entity is worse than under Theus. This is pretty basic to assess: the team was 6-18 under Reggie Theus (25%), and 9-36 under Natt (20%). The offense has regressed, the defense has regressed. This was the case even before the trade that sent two of the team's top three producers to Chicago, and before the opening day starting power forward was cut. Martin had been injured under both Theus and Natt. In every basketball sense that you can measure with a stick and a pencil, the Kings are no better than in December.

Giving the young players minutes? It's a tricky balance, sure. But Spencer Hawes played less than 20 minutes a game during Natt's first full month, after playing about 30 minutes a night for Theus. (The Miller trade and Moore waiver has gotten Hawes near 40 minutes a night, which is magnificent.) Jason Thompson has benefitted somewhat from the coaching change, though Shock has regularly been held out of fourth quarters as Natt remains enamored with a small line-up. Donté Greene played more minutes in November than he has even this month.

So the argument for Natt comes down to this:

making them better, instilling the discipline that they need as young guys to become better pros, professionals in this league, playing the right way, just instilling a lot of the things I've learned along the way as an assistant coach. …

This, I think, if you listen to Kevin Martin and Bobby Jackson, is where Natt has had greatest impact: he has turned the locker room around. (Honestly, the trades helped too.) Kenny Natt is Professional. No slight to Theus or Eric Musselman, but Natt is a grown-ass man -- not a kid in a camera-and-lights candy store, or a dude trying to be his players' BFF. Natt is businesslike in demeanor and expectations; the fact that he "intervened" in the Jackson-Greene prank war once Donté jacked Bobby's car is hilarious and kind-of awesome. Say what you will about it never getting to that point with a real disciplinarian at the head, but it takes something to have the respect of the players, kids and veterans alike, when you're a flailing lame duck.

Look at Nate McMillan. He came to Portland highly heralded due to his exemplary work in Seattle. He promised to install a professional operation on the court, to emphasis teamwork, leadership, good behavior, and disciplined play. In that first halycon season of the McMillan era, with some decent talent but an overall sub-par roster, the discipline and professionalism and leadership of McMillan took the Blazers to ... a 21-61 record. Professionalism, discipline, leadership -- you make those investments today so they show up tomorrow. (Drafting Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge the following summer also does not hurt.)

I guess the final argument in favor of Natt would be this: look at Washington. No offense to Ed Tapscott, who I understand to be a complete gentleman. But the Wizards have run roughshod all over him. Every account of their locker room has kangaroos bounding through the showers, confetti swirling through the HVAC vents and Pixie Stix replacing orange wedges. The second-worst team in the league has had a party this season on Abe Pollin's dime. Again, by all accounts, no one but two veterans gives a damn about the Wizards right now. A cornucopia of me me mes.

That's not the case in Sacramento, and that counts for something. Enough to overcome Natt's obvious tactical deficiencies? Well, only management has enough information to make that call.

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