Toward the end of the 2009-10 season, when the Kings had a 25-55 (.312) record, Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs decided to pick up the third-year option on Paul Westphal's contract -- an option that wouldn't kick in for another 12 months. He lasted a couple weeks into that third year, and finished his Kings career with the worst winning percentage among the franchise's coaches in the Sacramento era.
Keith Smart is 20-39 (.339) as the Kings' head coach, and the Kings decided on Monday to extend him through the 2013-14 season. This is actually the second commitment the team has made to Smart, who has only been with the organization since last winter. When the team fired Westphal and promoted Smart, it gave him a guaranteed deal for 2012-13 so as to prevent a lame duck situation. Now Petrie is nodding toward the lame duck issue in extending Smart.
Petrie said critics who think the team should have waited to give Smart an extension might also have considered him a lame duck coach if he hadn't received it before the season.
"I think it gives us stability and gives him a reasonable period of time to implement the style of play and type of teaching he wants to use," Petrie said. "We're still essentially a younger team that's in development, and he has a strong commitment to working with players and getting them to improve."
At this point in the Kings' tragic dive into abject futility, the term "lame duck" has no meaning. The churn and failure and churn of failure is all so consistent as to destroy the tropes other sports teams deal with. Like anyone on the Kings actually believes there's anything like stability in this franchise. It's an institutional volcanic field. Change is only a burp away. This is a franchise that sided with a tyrannical Paul Westphal all the way up to the moment that it didn't. Why would DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans or anyone believe that now the Kings are serious about stability?
I'm not in the locker room, I'm not in Cousins' head. But when I read that stability is the compelling reason to extend Smart now, I get nervous. Quality of coaching, teaching and leading should be the compelling reason to keep a coach. Not just existing, which is what stability really is at this point, in the sense that keeping the worst coach in the world could be considered stabilizing. To be fair, Petrie does cite the leadership and the commitment to hard work Smart has shown. But the main thrust of this seems to be giving the Kings some stability.
Now, I actually support Smart and think he is the right fit. If he'd never come to Sacramento before the lockout and Westphal instead made way for a different interim, and the job was open this offseason and Smart was a candidate, he might have been my favorite candidate based solely on pedigree and style. I think he's a good coach, and he clearly understands how to reach DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' most important prospect. I fully support keeping Smart for next season and seeing whether he can deliver on defense and in finding a role for Tyreke. I think his work to assemble most of the players in freaking July and August in Sacramento has been amazing. I'm but a fan, but I like and support Smart.
I just don't understand the rush to lock him up. Was he going somewhere else? Is the potential for a higher salary next summer really that big a deal? I don't buy it. This was a Petrie-driven move. It may have something to do with Petrie's need to prove to himself and the Maloofs that the franchise is stable and on an upward trajectory. Petrie's own contract runs only through the end of this season. Were this a normal franchise with normal owners, Petrie would need this season to go well to keep his job. Ensuring that Smart has maximum franchise support -- even at the risk of settling -- is a piece of that. This is one less item that Petrie has to worry about heading into his own negotiations, which probably began the second Smart signed.
Don't forget that in 2009-10 Petrie leveraged the Kings' "hot start" into a three-year extension. As soon as the Kings hit .500 in late November after a spate of home games, get ready for that press conference.