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News » Right-hand man looking good in stint as main man


Right-hand man looking good in stint as main man


Right-hand man looking good in stint as main manKeith Smart hesitantly walked toward the seat reserved for the Warriors' head coach during a recent pregame interview.

As he approached the microphoned perch, he made cracks about not getting used to the seat and intending simply to keep it warm for a short period. Then, he seamlessly avoided questions he didn't want to answer, eloquently raved about players who were performing well and stopped the interview by innocently asking if he could get back to work.

Smart, the Warriors' top assistant, is publicly playing the part of timid understudy as the team awaits the full-time return of head coach Don Nelson from a bout with pneumonia. What Smart is doing in the locker room and on the court, however, might be proving that he's ready for a leading role.

"He's done a terrific job, especially in leading the team," guard C.J. Watson said. "He gets us ready to come out for games, he really prepares us mentally, and he keeps us upbeat and free."

There are three more games before Nelson's planned return against San Antonio on Wednesday. In seven games under Smart, the Warriors' field-goal percentage and scoring numbers are slightly worse, but they've improved slightly their field-goal defense and scoring defense.

The most obvious difference is in the most important category. The Warriors are 4-10 under Nelson and 3-4 under Smart.

Though they've reiterated that they want Nelson to get healthy and complete his contract through the 2010-11 season, both Warriors President Robert Rowell and general manager Larry Riley have lauded Smart's performance. Smart has gone out of his way to bring the story back to Nelson, going as far as to say the inspired six-player upset at Dallas was because the team was playing for Nelson and this week calling Nelson the "Big Man" and "The Guy."

Other than more impassioned pregame speeches in the locker room, the players say there is little difference between Nelson and Smart. The numbers support that: The field-goal-percentage disparity is less than two points, the difference in opponents' field-goal percentage is even smaller, and opponents' scoring is separated by less than four-tenths of a point.

"It's pretty much the same thing, because Smart has been under Nellie for years," guard Monta Ellis said. "He's learned a lot and he wants to do the same things: play pressure defense, run the break and play Warriors Basketball."

Smart has spoken with Nelson multiple times a day during this span and calls himself an extension of the coach. When Nelson returned for a two-game homestand last week, he said the only change he would have made was playing NBA Development League call-up Chris Hunter more.

Smart is in his seventh season with the Warriors , giving him the longest tenure of any assistant coach in the Warriors' West Coast history. He has become deeply invested in the franchise, even coaching the summer-league team before a contract extension had been completed and accepting more responsibility without extra pay as Nelson is ailing.

Smart has the rare liberties of being the league's lone "defensive coordinator," running many of the Warriors' practices and taking the head-coaching reins during some preseason and regular-season games. He is widely considered the heir apparent to Nelson, though no one confirmed that verbiage is in writing.

"I'm still here because the Warriors already understand that I can do this thing," Smart said. "My focus always has been on the job at hand. I don't think I've ever thought about showcasing myself."

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Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 11, 2009

 

 
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