Kings' season hasn't gone according to Smart's plan

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 - 8:07 am

For Kings coach Keith Smart, this season was going to be his first real chance.

He had an entire offseason to implement his vision for the team, but things haven't worked out how he hoped.

Smart knew it would take a big improvement to contend for the playoffs, but he didn't expect to coach during a pending ownership change that contributed to instability and trickled into the locker room.

Despite the difficult season and an uncertain future, Smart prepared for tonight's season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers much as he prepared for the previous 81 games.

Still, he knows it will be an emotional night. For the second time in three years, tonight's game could be the final NBA game in Sacramento as the league decides whether the Kings will be sold to buyers in Seattle or Sacramento.

For Smart, it's yet another "what next?" in a season full of them.

"You finally get an opportunity and you think you knew last year when you finished what you were going to try to do to build the team and grow the team and those things couldn't happen," Smart said. "A lot of my coaching friends around the league are saying you're doing what you can with that basketball team under the situation; you're doing a good job based on what you have.

"That's always refreshing, but when you're in it, it's a different story."

Smart made defense and team camaraderie top priorities.

But his best defensive players turned out to be some of his worst offensive players, and the Kings struggled to score. And center DeMarcus Cousins was suspended multiple times. The most recent suspension – an indefinite banishment by Smart that was approved by the players – was cut short by the team's owners, which didn't help enforce the idea Smart was in charge.

On the court, Cousins didn't improve as much as expected, guard Tyreke Evans missed time because of injuries, and Marcus Thornton struggled in his new role as sixth man.

Smart tried to figure out the best way to use a roster that lacked size in the backcourt, a steady defensive presence in the paint and players who still did not display the professionalism necessary to improve.

"I look at players and things I could have done," Smart said. " … your best players have to play great on both sides of the court. And they've got to play at that level all the time."

Players griped about inconsistent playing time, and the coaching staff was flustered by inconsistent effort.

"A coach is only as good as his best player is playing," Smart said. "And when your best players are playing great, you have a great chance of winning every night.

"Maybe I should have played zone more, maybe I should have looked at this team and said maybe they're not good enough defensively from an individual standpoint and try to utilize some other things."

Smart also realizes many of those issues won't matter to the fans expected to fill Sleep Train Arena tonight.

"With the fans still knowing and believing this is still our team, we're still going to get that big-time support because they love this basketball team," Smart said. "And hopefully, we go out and play a great game."

Two years ago, fans cried as the buzzer sounded, ending the season finale against the Lakers, before the Maloofs backed off plans to move the team to Anaheim.

No one knows what to expect tonight, other than the game will be emotional.

"I know there is probably going to be a lot of fans there, and it's probably going to be loud," guard Isaiah Thomas said. "And hopefully, we can get the win. But … with uncertainty, you just never know what is going to happen."

Smart knows one thing – he'll be at work Thursday preparing for the draft and next season.

"… come back and start going through my team, looking at the college teams because we don't have a chance to see them (during the season)," Smart said. "And whatever happens from there, happens."

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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