In an unsually chatty, upbeat postgame locker room - a common occurrence when one head coach has been replaced by another - I was talking with Bobby Jackson, who dropped one of the most unexpected nuggets of the night: This was the first time in his 12 NBA seasons that he has experienced an in-season firing. "It's kind of strange, now that I think about it," he said. "I was wondering how guys were going to take it. But we responded. Hopefully we can continue to come out and play the type of basketball we're capable of."
Brad Miller, the longest-tenured King, now in his 11th year and his sixth in Sacramento, also noted that he has been on only two teams that changed head coaches. "Dave Cowens quit when I was in Charlotte," said Miller, "so I don't even know if that counts."
Then there were Jason Thompson, Donte Greene and Bobby Brown. The rookies are only 25 games into their NBA careers, and their coach is a goner.
Life in the NBA. Welcome to it.
The guessing game begins
Kenny Natt could pull off a major upset here, guide the Kings into the postseason, develop Spencer Hawes into Bill Walton and Jason Thompson into Karl Malone - OK, just kidding - and keep his job at season's end. But the odds and NBA history suggests otherwise. There will be too many established head coaches available during the offseason, with the Kings' front-office types particularly enamored of Flip Saunders. You know. Experienced. Innovative offense. Excellent teacher.
Of course, the historic pre-Xmas flurry of six firings suggests Saunders will be a hot commodity in the offseason. So here's the question: other than the millions to be earned, who would want this job? OK. Never mind. Can't feel too sorry for millionaires in this economy ...
A few other postgame reflections:
* First of all, those were the Minnesota Timberwolves, on the second night of a back-to-back, who the Kings victimized Monday night at Arco Arena. So don't schedule the party just yet.
* Donte Greene has an absolutely beautiful, high-arching jump shot. He says he has favored the hang-time since boyhood. His defense is another matter. "But I'm getting better," he insists. "This is all new to me. In college (Syracuse), we played nothing but zone. This is all new to me."
* When Hawes commits to defending and rebounding, as he did Monday night, he is an incredibly valuable asset. I keep reminding myself: This is a kid who is 7-foot-1, who completely transformed his body during the offseason, who clearly wants to be great, and who is only 20 years old. If he doesn't lose his edge, his desire and his willingness to learn, he will become a special player in this league. Who knew? A steal at No. 10 in the 2007 NBA draft.
* Natt had only a few hours to prepare his team for the game, and typically, teams get energized by coaching changes. But after a sluggish start, the Kings definitely played some of the most inspired defense in a while - excluding last week's Lakers game at Arco - and eased into their early offense. John Salmons' defense was particularly noteworthy, almost offsetting his tendency to dribble into a crowd and dominate the ball. I will be curious to see if Natt challenges Salmons, demanding that he become a more willing passer.
* Reggie will be missed. He was an incredibly bright, classy guy to deal with, even as the pressure intensified. I definitely see him resurfacing somewhere as a head coach, probably in college. What mother could resist his charms as a recruiter?
* I still don't understand why Chuck Person, who was Reggie's de facto lead assistant, was in charge of the defense. Person was one of the league's great scorers during his career, and the league's Rookie of the Year in 1987. True, he was a tough, physical player, and a tireless worker. But wouldn't it have made more sense for him to oversee the offense?
* Natt has one advantage: He has a quality locker room. Aside from the occasional grumbling from a veteran who wants more minutes, there isn't much not to like.
* Most impressive about Monday's victory? The Kings competed. These last few weeks, it wasn't the won-lost percentage that doomed Theus, but the tenor of the lopsided defeats. When players stop giving an effort, their coaches are soon to be history.
* With Jack Nicholson in town for his induction into the California Hall of Fame, I couldn't help but think about the time Jack mooned the crowd from his lower balcony seat during the Lakers-Celtics Finals. Was it 1987? Anyway, as he probably would attest, the passion of the old Boston Garden crowds has yet to be duplicated. The ovation was so loud, it drowned out the second half of the national anthem. Sorry, Kings fans, or those who not so long ago were regarded as the most impassioned in the league. Not even close ...
Nice timing, Kevin
Kevin McHale, who already looks exhausted mere weeks into his gig as the Wolves' head coach, endured a miserable loss on the same night his old club, the Celtics, tied the record for the best 25-game start (23-2) in league history. I couldn't help but recall McHale's role in what I still consider to be one of the most impressive feats I've encountered in my decades of covering the NBA: the Celtics' 40-1 home mark during their championship 1985-86 season. McHale, who was not only an incredibly unique power forward, with his long arms, inimitable post moves and terrific defense, but a gutsy performer. He was also known as the "Black Hole," but that's another story. The following season, he played on a broken foot during the Celtics-Lakers championship series. As a result, he still limps noticeably. Maybe old school wasn't always so great.