PORTLAND, Ore. Taking over an NBA team after an in-season coaching change is not easy.
But Kings coach Keith Smart is in an especially tough spot, doing so in a compressed 66-game season that gave him only two weeks to get to know the players as an assistant coach.
Smart relies on his coaching experience in the minor leagues to help him deal with the situation.
He started his coaching career with the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association from 1997 to 2000. In the CBA, players could be called up to the NBA at any time. That meant Smart had to adjust quickly and make sure all his players were in tune with what he wanted because he didn't know who he might need to step in.
That's been the case this season with the Kings. Smart lost starting forward Chuck Hayes to a dislocated shoulder in his first game as coach Jan. 5. He's also been without starting guard Marcus Thornton and, more recently, starting forward John Salmons.
"I've always had that philosophy that every player on my team is touched and talked to and kept involved by either myself or a staff member to let them know they're still important," Smart said. "Their time in a long NBA season can come at any moment."
That's why Smart is comfortable turning to players who might not normally get consistent minutes.
Smart believes the Kings' best chance to win is to use a deep rotation. And if someone doesn't play in one game, Smart makes sure that player understands his thinking.
"I'd love to have every guy in the rotation, but some nights you just can't stretch it that far," Smart said.
Feeling better Salmons was released from a Memphis, Tenn., hospital Sunday and was headed to Portland to rejoin the team Sunday night.
Salmons missed Saturday night's loss to the Grizzlies and remained hospitalized overnight because of what was believed to be food poisoning. The team flew to Portland immediately after the game.
Head athletic trainer Manny Romero stayed in Memphis with Salmons and was flying alongside him.
Salmons started the first 16 games this season at small forward. Francisco Garcia started in his place against the Grizzlies.
Salmons is officially listed as questionable for tonight's game.
More injuries Thornton (left thigh contusion) is doubtful for tonight's game.
Thornton left the Memphis game in the second quarter when his left leg became stiff.
Thornton initially injured his leg Jan. 8 against Orlando and missed three games. He aggravated the injury Friday at San Antonio but finished that game.