OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors parted ways with coach Keith Smart on Wednesday, the first major fallout this offseason from a new ownership group that has promised sweeping changes to the perennial underachieving franchise.
Smart spent seven years as an assistant with Golden State before he replaced the ousted Don Nelson just before training camp. The Warriors went 36-46 under Smart, a 10-game improvement from the previous season but clearly not enough to appease owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
They managed to hastily put Smart in place even before the NBA officially approved the sale of the Warriors last year. Smart was only given a one-year contract with a team option for next season, and nothing short of a rare playoff appearance was likely to save his job.
The new owners have vowed to restore the franchise to past glory with splashy signings and playoff performances. The Warriors have made the postseason just once since 1994; yet fans in the basketball-crazy Bay Area remain some of the most loyal and vocal in a market saturated with sports teams.
Golden State already had decided to retain general manager Larry Riley. The team also hired longtime NBA agent Bob Myers a few weeks ago to be the assistant general manager and Riley’s eventual successor.
“It’s never easy to make difficult decisions, especially when it involves someone that we have a great deal of respect for like Keith Smart,” Lacob said. “After meeting extensively with Larry Riley and Bob Myers, we came to the conclusion that a change was necessary at this particular time. I think Keith did an admirable job this season, and he should be commended for many of the positive things that transpired both on and off the floor.
“The team showed improvement, and their effort was never in question. However, we’ve elected to pursue a new path, and we wish Keith the very best. He’s a quality person, and we thank him for the time he invested with our organization.”
Smart had little time to deliver them a winner.
Smart, the former Indiana guard best known for hitting “The Shot” against Syracuse that won the Hoosiers the 1987 NCAA title, declared from the moment he began that he would put his own stamp on the bench no matter how long his tenure lasted. He walked around the locker room before training camp asking for a handshake from each player, signaling a pact that they would allow Smart to coach them and be involved in their lives.
In the end, all those efforts weren’t enough.
Smart was still left with the same pitfall as so many of his predecessors: working with a flawed roster that, even at its best, was no playoff contender in the deep West Conference. Smart juggled the undersized guard combo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry with mixed results, and the lack of a true inside presence again left the Warriors exposed.
Smart often took a hardline approach with Curry, even benching the second-year starting point guard late in a few games. Their relationship was never perfect, but Smart was still well liked by players — including Curry — and front-office members until the end.
The Warriors were expected to formally announce the change at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“I obviously have a great deal of admiration for Keith as both a professional and a friend,” Riley said in a statement. “He’s dedicated a lot of time, hard work and commitment to this job, not only over the course of the last year as the head coach, but the previous seven years with our organization.
“We’re grateful for his contributions and have the utmost respect for him. From our standpoint, however, we feel it is in our best interest as we move as an organization and begin to focus and prepare for the future. At this time, we do not have a timetable for hiring a successor. We’ll conduct our due diligence and make a good, sound decision when we’ve identified that individual.”
The 46-year-old Smart kept the run-and-fun offense Nelson once perfected, leading to some dazzling outputs and upsets, including a three-game winning streak in April over the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas and Portland. But the defensive effort was never there, and a six-game losing streak in late March that knocked the Warriors out of postseason contention spelled the end of Smart’s tenure.
Smart was drafted by the Warriors 41st overall in 1988. He had been an NBA assistant for a decade before becoming Golden State’s coach, although he had a brief stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ interim head coach for the final 40 games in 2003 after taking over for John Lucas.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)