The most hotly debated topic of the Kings' season thus far has been Coach Keith Smart's rotations. Something that at times seems very simple - D'uh, play Cousins 35 minutes, get Evans and Thomas theirs, and we're set! - can at times seem extremely frustrating to both the occasional and die-hard fan; it seems to have no signs of stopping.
Outlaw the first man off the bench? Putting your star player, a foul-prone big man, in for :50 meaningless seconds at the end of the half? Playing your raw rookie for long stretches in close games? Sheer madness. But, it might not be as illogical as it seems.
For those who caught the halftime video presentation on Comcast during the Warriors game, or have remotely followed the Kings for the past year, have noticed that one thing Coach Smart preaches is family. In a functioning family, everyone has a role, be it big or small. There is always the Potential Dichotomy: you have your top dogs, Cousins and Evans, and your bench guys, the Brockness Monster and The Juice Man. But, one thing that is very evident in Coach Smart's philosophy is no matter where you were selected, signed from, or acquired, there will always be time your time to earn a spot. Had he not established this thought, Mr. Irrelevant might still be just that.
This season the early trend has been defense. It's been outstanding to watch through the first handful of games, but the offense hasn't exactly cemented itself yet. Mostly, yes, because of rotations. How will Evans get his stats if he is sitting through entire lengths of a quarter? How will we win if the bench unit is on for long periods of time? Well, as illogical as the substitution pattern might be, the reasoning might make more sense than you believe.
I noted in the Warriors GDT that had Smart not left Thornton in against the Bulls when he was an ice-cold 1 of 6, we might not have seem the fruits of his labor - Thornton being the Kings' leading scorer. I believe Smart should be, and is, giving his players the best opportunity to play their way into these subversive roles we always harp about, a structure that is critical to any good team. Let them play, because we aren't there yet.
In Smart's eyes, these games could be throwaways - he already has a nod of approval from the M*loofs - exhibitions to see where the best players fit where. Unlike practice, these decisions could be formulated against actual NBA talent, too! Accountability should always be there, but players need a long enough leash to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie on the hardwood, against real talent. Jimmer might need to play eight minutes in the third quarter, because he needs to gain some actual confidence in his game (Lord knows improvement does not happen during garbage time at the end of the half). Brooks will extended time at the point; Robinson at his natural four; and Hayes even facilitating some offense. In the long run, this type of thinking could greatly benefit the team, as we'll finally know what fits where (Evans playing the three last year looks great on the defensive end now, because the Kings are thin at that position, and he'll need to play there in some looks). We can't fault Coach Smart for not trying to get the best out of a mix-and-match roster.
If the players know that Coach Smart trusts them to play their game, they can play better. Yes, we all want to see Cousins go 20-20 every night, but as hard as it is to watch what most see as blasphemous, or irrational now, maximum utilization of a 12-man roster seems much better than having improving players play maximum minutes, and seven guys rotting on the bench because the we, or the staff, simply don't know what they're capable of. I mean, there is a reason why Outlaw was signed to a $35 million deal with New Jersey, right? It's hard to have patience, but there could be a method behind this 'madness'. Sure we all want winning now, but we're simply not there yet.