Full disclosure: I'm still not on the Keith Smart bandwagon. This is not to say that he isn't an improvement over Paul Westphal (he is), or that he may not wind up being the right guy for this particular team (he may). But Smart is currently a lot closer to Reggie Theus than Rick Adelman on my coach-a-meter. That said, a competitively played 33-49 or better season would certainly raise my level of enthusiasm as it pertains to Smart.
But here's the thing that I have not taken into account up to this point: How many coaches are out there that I would rather have coach this particular team than Keith Smart?
For the purpose of this exercise, let's not consider the fact that the Broch BrothersTM wouldn't hire any coach demanding more than NBA minimum wage. Let's just pretend that money's not an object. If every current NBA coach were available (and perhaps a few "out of work" coaches), how many would ring my bell?
The Slam Dunks: Rick Adelman, Rick Carlisle, George Karl, Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, Tom Thibodeau, Phil Jackson. These seven guys instantly make any team better, in my opinion. I had my doubts about Adelman's ability to work with a young team in transition, but you can't argue with what he has done in Minnesota. With any reasonable health last year, the T-Wolves would have been battling for a playoff spot. Carlisle's players like and respect him, and he's a good X's and O's guy. Karl knows how to get the most out of his players, and his teams are historically among the most fun to watch. Pop is Pop, the gold standard. I know that some would question Sloan, but in comparison to Smart? My lone concern with Thibs is burnout, but I'd take him in a nanosecond. Say what you will about Phil Jackson always having the best players, but he'd make any team exponentially better.
The Upgrades: Scott Brooks, Doug Collins, Lawrence Frank, Doc Rivers. Each of these guys bring a question or two with them, but would still represent an upgrade over Smart. Brooks has been blessed with a talented team and is learning to coach at the championship level on the fly. But he also turned the Thunder 180 degrees after taking over for P.J. Carlesimo, and he has playoff experience and the ability to work with the game's best on his side. The only question regarding Collins is his commitment and his ability to stave off burnout. Frank is a personal preference, as I've always been impressed with how hard his teams play, how well they are prepared, and how he gets the best out of his players. I do wonder how Rivers would do with a young and inexperienced team, but his ability to get Rondo to (grudgingly) conform to a style of play that benefits his core of older players is not to be overlooked. And he's a damn fine game coach.
The Pushes to Slight Edges: Tyrone Corbin, Lionel Hollins, Scott Skiles, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Frank Vogel, Monty Williams. I think that Corbin is cut of the same cloth as Smart, though more understated. Corbin strikes me as a coach that won't be outworked. Hollins has gotten nice performances out of his core: Randolph, Gasol, Conley, etc. have all exceeded expectations. Skiles is a workhorse and a proven commodity, though his intensity scares me a little. JVG would be a definite upgrade, but I have concerns that his ego would be a distraction. Ditto SVGx1,000. (And am I the only one that is enjoying the irony of SVG being upset that ESPN talked about hiring him and then decided not to? Tell it to Kinko's, Stan.) Frank Vogel is doing in Indy what we would like to see Smart do here: develop a young bunch of players into a cohesive, selfless, hard-working, winning unit. Monty Williams' Hornets play all out, all the time.
The Not-So-Fasts: Mike Brown, Mike Fratello, Avery Johnson, Eddie Jordan, Kevin McHale, Flip Saunders, Byron Scott, Erik Spoelstra. Each one of these guys has a "pedigree" in excess of their overall performance. For this Kings team at this time, I think that Smart may be a better call than any of these guys.
The Um-No's: Dwane Casey, Vinny Del Negro, Larry Drew, Mike Dunlap, Alvin Gentry, Mark Jackson, Terry Stotts, Jacque Vaughn, Randy Wittman, Mike Woodson. Yuck.
The Hell No's: Paul Westphal, Kenny Natt, Reggie Theus, Eric Musselman, Garry St. Jean, Dick Motta, Bill Russell, Phil Johnson.
There are others. I did not consider assistants waiting for their first break (Elston Turner, Mario Elie, Patrick Ewing, etc.).
So while I am not yet completely sold on Smart, it appears that based on the options, he is at least an average choice. And when you eliminate the options that are not available in a M*loofian universe, he becomes at least a better than average choice. As always, time will tell.