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Kings extend contract of coach Keith Smart

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POSTED March 6, 2012 12:47 a.m.

DENVER (AP) — Keith Smart already had the full support of his players.

Now, the Sacramento Kings coach has the backing of the organization to go with it.

President of basketball operations Geoff Petrie announced Monday the team extended Smart’s contract through the 2012-13 season. The 47-year-old Smart stepped in when Paul Westphal was fired in early January.

For Smart, this was another chance to show his leadership skills on the bench after the Golden State Warriors let him go last April after one solid season. He appreciates the opportunity, even if he didn’t think another shot would happen this soon.

“Many coaches in the NBA, front office people called me after that happened (in Golden State) and said, ‘You did a great job. You coached that team. You showed that you could coach in the NBA. You will get another opportunity,’” Smart said Monday night before a game at Denver.

“(The players) have responded pretty well to what I’ve been doing. They take constructive criticism and take a pat on the back well. We are trying to build something that will last a long time — not a quick fix deal.”

And that’s why Petrie elected to make this move.

“Keith has done a terrific job of taking control of the direction of the team,” Petrie said. “He is active, engaged and working hard to develop our young players along with a complimentary style of play.”

Keeping Smart is another encouraging development for the franchise, which has a full financing plan in place for a new arena that could keep the Kings from leaving town. The City Council is set to vote on the plan Tuesday night, with former player and mayor Kevin Johnson taking a lead role in the efforts.

Westphal was dismissed on Jan. 5, just seven games into the lockout-shortened season. At the time, the Kings were 2-5 and languishing in last place in the Pacific Division. That’s when Petrie and the Maloof ownership made the move to promote Smart.

A longtime NBA assistant before coaching Golden State, Smart led a 10-game improvement by the Warriors last season for a 36-46 record — bettering the previous finish of his mentor and career wins leader Don Nelson — only to be replaced when owner Joe Lacob decided to bring in his own guy: first-time coach Mark Jackson.

When he got another chance from the Kings, Smart said he hoped the new job would be a good fit for both sides and give him some stability again.

“These guys have bought into it. Now, it’s just a matter of us growing on the basketball floor and all coming together,” said Smart, who is 10-20 since taking over. “There have been games where you look and say, ‘Boy, if not for about seven possessions in a game defensively, we were really, really good that night.’ So, they’ve come a long way.”

His players certainly value his coaching style.

“It brings the team confidence knowing he will be here and he will be the coach,” forward Jason Thompson said. “I had a good relationship with him as an assistant, and even when he was with the Warriors. He is a player’s type coach.”

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