NEW ORLEANS — Baton Rouge native Keith Smart is unsure of how or how soon the recent sale of the Sacramento Kings will affect the franchise he coaches. Its new Seattle-based ownership group appears poised to return the NBA to the Northwest.
Smart did reveal Monday afternoon that he wants his family’s lifestyle to mimic the stable environment he enjoyed as a prep standout at McKinley High School, not the transient culture of his sport.
It’s a decision he and his wife, Carol, made years ago. Once they identified an educational and extracurricular setting that Andre’, 16, and Jared, 14, enjoyed and excelled in, the boys would not be faced with following dad around the NBA, which could mean finding new schools and activities anywhere between Seattle and Miami.
“I want to make sure those guys are going to be locked into what they’re doing, their world,” said Smart, now in his second season as coach of the Kings.
“My world can get moved around a little bit, and hopefully it doesn’t affect them as much.”
Smart joked — well, half-joked — that this is also important so that when the boys move on to college and graduate, “They won’t come back home and live with mom and dad ... except for the holidays.”
The Smart family has been lucky, by NBA standards. Moves thus far have been minimum.
Smart has spent the past two seasons in Sacramento, not far from his eight-year tenure with Golden State — the last as head coach. He also worked as an assistant with Cleveland (2000-2003), serving briefing as interim coach in the middle of the 2002-03 season. Before that, he was head coach of the CBA’s Fort Wayne Fury for three seasons, not far from his college days at the University of Indiana, where he led the Hoosiers to the 1987 NCAA national championship, highlighted by his game-winning shot against Syracuse.
After his Final Four heroics at the Superdome, across the street from Monday’s game, he played professionally in the CBA for six seasons, then two in France and another in Venezuela.
Not the life he wanted for his boys. So, like his team, he’s conveyed a message of stability.
“You try to keep them focused,” Smart said. “Continue to do your schoolwork. Whatever activity you’re involved with at the moment, keep focused on that, and that’s all you can control.”
Monday on the court, Smart tried to treat the game against the Hornets like any other in his coaching career.
He paced the area in front of the visiting bench at the New Orleans Arena, griping a folded sheet of paper in his left hand. He yelled instructions to players on the court, nodding his head in delight when James Johnson scored on layup. Conversely, Smart turned in disgust when the Kings neglected to box out during the final seconds of the first half, allowing Robin Lopez to score an easy putback.
The Hornets won 114-105, dropping the Kings to 16-26.
“I thought we had a lot of lingering on in the locker room before we got our pregame (routine) going,” Smart said. “Different conversations. People made little, small remarks. But once they got on the floor, I thought it was more of us being a little sluggish than the news that came about.”
Smart’s future with the franchise is just as uncertain as its location next season.
He could join the team in Seattle, if the NBA approves the move. Smart could stay in Sacramento, his home since last January, if the NBA makes the rare decision to nix a relocation proposal. Or the Kings could move and opt for a new coach.
Either way, he plans to focus on the job, not its location or his status.
Another Baton Rouge native, Kings guard Marcus Thornton has followed Smart’s lead. Thornton played at LSU before being selected with the 43rd overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft. On Monday, he scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting.
“We don’t talk too much about it,” Thornton said of the potential move. “We can’t control it, what goes on with the front office.”