LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02: Head coach Keith Smart of the Sacramento Kings talks with Isaiah Thomas #22 during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 115-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Let me preface this by saying that I like the job that Keith Smart is doing. The team finally has an offensive identity, DeMarcus Cousins has blossomed and his attitude has been a breath of fresh air. He's an obvious improvement over Paul Westphal, and appears to be the most likable Sacramento coach since Rick Adelman.
But there's no reason to commit to him for next season, as Joe Maloof did in an interview with SI.com's Sam Amick this week. There's no reason for the Kings to decide to pick up his option now (which they have not formally done) or say that they want him to be their coach forever. There's no reason to make that decision. There's no benefit in making that decision now instead of in May. In fact, there's a disincentive in doing that.
It's not just the money, it's what the money represents. If Smart turned into a massive disaster in the second half and the Kings had officially picked up the option, the team could conceivably change its mind, eat the couple million dollars (if that) and get back in the market. But he's not going to turn into a disaster. I hate to be the pessimist -- like I said, I like what Smart's doing -- but the most likely result from here on out is a mediocre finish, something slightly better than the 11-22 the Kings put up in the first half.
If the Kings were to finish the season 26-40 with one of the league's worst defenses (current No. 28), with Smart coaching most of those games, shouldn't his job be in question? Shouldn't the team consider a defensive upgrade on the sidelines, especially considering coaching seems to impact defense more than offense? The nominal money -- about half of Travis Outlaw's annual salary, for perspective -- isn't the problem. But it's a sunk cost, and we know how this team reacts to sunk costs. We saw it over the last two years with Paul Westphal. The Kings made a rash decision to pick up Westphal's 2011-12 option back in 2009 thanks to a few wins with a rookie Tyreke Evans. And the team kept him into this season. The same happened with Geoff Petrie's contract -- he picked Evans and got an extension as a result. It's a rash and needless.
You can't run a team on wild emotional swings. In this case, you can't get by simply judging Smart against Westphal. Eric Musselman would look like Pat Riley next to Paul Westphal. The choice is not between Smart and the failed Kings coaches of the past, but between Smart and all other candidates, some prominent ones of which (Stan Van Gundy, perhaps) could become available by June. Again, Smart's doing pretty well and has been refreshing. But this is a needlessly kind gesture that reminds us how rash and fly-by-pants this club is run right now.