Reggie Theus Lacks Hang Time

Brandon GallawaContributor IDecember 17, 2008

The Sacramento Kings fired Reggie Theus on Monday morning, and it was announced that assistant Kenny Natt was named interim coach.  The Kings also fired Chuck Person, Theus’ top assistant. 

The writing seemed to be on the wall as early as November 15th when Joe Maloof called Theus out on a Sacramento radio show.  It seems that losses in 10 of their last 11 games and falling to last place in the Pacific division was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Theus was not stellar in his short tenure with Sacramento going 44-62 in his first stint as an NBA head coach.  The Kings did overachieve last season going 38-44 despite dealing with a lot of injuries, but their 6-18 record this season left a lot to be desired in spite of missing Kevin Martin for 15 games, Francisco Garcia for 17 games, and Brad Miller for the first 5 games of the season. 

They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and don’t back that up with a very good offense, and their rookies have regressed as the season has progressed.  So the case can be made that Theus deserved to be fired.

The case can also be made that he never deserved to be hired in the first place, a point I belabored while the Kings were searching for a coach before the 2007-08 season.  Reggie Theus was strictly a marketing pick during that off-season. 

He was a recognized name in Sacramento having played for the Kings for 4 seasons; he had an appealing look that would attract fans, and he was coming off a good season as a college head coach at New Mexico State.  As most of us know decisions made with only marketing as a factor usually don’t work out very well. 

These poor decisions along with impatience, unrealistic expectations and the whims of an owner usually lead to a combustible situation that almost always ends with someone losing his or her job.

The decision of most owners to fire a head coach initially stems from unrealistic expectations, and this was one of the main factors behind Theus being fired.  No one that knows basketball expected much from the Kings this season.  They were picked as a lottery team in almost every pre-season preview, yet you would have thought this team was headed to the playoffs hearing or reading the Maloofs’ comments before the season. 

They fully expected the Kings to be in contention for a playoff spot, and the fact that they still held that opinion even after the Kings were without two of their best players for two-thirds of the season just shows how delusional those expectations are.  Owners have to be realistic sometimes. 

Only half the teams in the league make the playoffs and only three or four have a realistic shot at winning a championship year in and year out.  But when those expectations aren’t met (as they most often aren’t) the owners are usually very quick to play executioner.

The mercurial attitude of the Maloofs also contributed to Reggie Theus being fired.  The Maloofs made the decision to bring Theus in before last season.  They had a whim to bring in an ex-King who would have instant name recognition with fans instead of allowing the basketball people they hired to make the basketball decisions. 

They used their gut when they made the decision to fire Rick Adelman and to hire the fire Eric Musselman.  You would think that the last three coaching decisions that they made would have made them realize that they aren’t the greatest basketball minds in the building, but it hasn’t slowed them down.

When the story first broke, the first reaction was that the Kings were a rudderless ship that really didn’t have a direction or plan in order to succeed.  When you look deeper, you realize that they are more like a ship with four rudders trying to steer the ship in ten different directions. 

This team doesn’t have a unified goal because the Maloofs don’t seem to trust Geoff Petrie; the coach can never trust the Maloofs, and the players have no motivation to work hard for a lame duck coach with no actual authority.  This usually stems from ownership trying to take over too much of the game-to-game control of a team.

Great business people know that entrusting others and delegating tasks to them is the best way to run a business.  What owners like the Maloofs don’t seem to realize is that they don’t have to be the only ones to make a decision for it to reflect positively on them. 

More often than not a great decision made by their employee still reflects positively on them because ultimately it was their foresight to delegate that power which led to it.  That isn’t to say that the Maloofs should be completely hands off because they paid a lot of money for the Kings, and they have every right to voice their opinions and be involved in the decision making processes.

On a related note, name the owner of the San Antonio Spurs without looking it up.  Most people couldn’t pick Peter Holt out of a line-up unless they’re real NBA-philes or in the market for Caterpillar construction equipment.  The reason: he trusts the decision makers he has put in position to succeed and knows they are more qualified than he is when it comes to running the product on the court. 

He doesn’t grandstand or worry about his image as a playboy or team owner.  Holt cares as much about his team’s winning and being seen accepting the Larry O’Brien trophy as the Maloofs care about producing reality shows and being seen on the Las Vegas strip.

So this now leaves the Kings with a head coaching spot to fill this off-season, and the next topic of discussion will be who the Kings decide to bring on board.  There is no way of knowing exactly who will be available or who the Kings will choose when it is all said and done. 

As I wrote immediately after Musselman was fired, how this decision is made will reflect on whether the Maloofs are actually handing the keys back to Geoff Petrie.  There are a lot of great basketball minds available, so at least they’ll have a talented pool of potential coaches from which to choose.

Reggie Theus’ firing serves as yet another cautionary tale of a college coach not being able to cut it in the NBA.  College coaches just don’t have the right attitude and mentality to lead an NBA team.  For every Larry Brown there are ten examples just like Mike Montgomery.  You can have a dictatorial relationship with college players because you make more money than they do and your job is much more secure, but that just doesn’t translate to the pro game.

Coaches have to deal with different players that have different motivations in college than in the pros.  In college it is all about the team and winning games as opposed to getting your stats in spite of victories. 

The NBA is all about getting paid, and getting paid is directly proportionate to what statistics you accumulate.  There are exceptions to this rule in both college and the pros.  There are plenty of players in college that are only out to get their stats and don’t care what their coaches have to tell them, and there are also plenty of players in the NBA that could care less what stats they put up as long as they win. 

Players in the NBA know that their guaranteed contracts mean they can do and say whatever they want and only be on their best behavior in a contract year, and that more often than not the coach will take the fall because he is much easier to replace.  College coaches have to answer to boosters and their Athletic Director, but once again the AD and boosters care more about winning than anything else.

It appears that Reggie Theus had already planned his exit from Sacramento, and he has hinted that he had been planning on heading back to the college ranks.  Hopefully his style continues to translate well to college, and he is able to find success again.