Keith Smart waited nearly 10 years for the chance to coach an NBA team. The league’s all-time winningest coach, Don Nelson, gave it to him.
Golden State Warriors general manager Larry Riley officially named Smart the coach Monday and introduced him at a news conference.
”It’s no secret that Don Nelson wanted me to be a defensive coordinator,” Smart said. ”I still want to run and play fast, but we’ve added another element that allows us to play bigger and more physical from a defensive standpoint.”
Smart had been a Warriors assistant for the past seven years and served as an interim head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, going 9-31. Nelson had the final year of his contract bought out.
”Obviously it would have been better to do this earlier in the summer,” Riley said. ”We’ve discussed it for a long time now about making a change. I’ve talked with Nellie in that regard and we came to some agreement to where we want to go.”
With a change in ownership looming, Riley said he kept all parties informed as the Warriors moved forward with personnel and coaching decisions.
Christopher J. Cohan, who assumed ownership from Franklin Mueli in 1995, agreed to sell the team to a group led by Peter Guber and Joseph Lacob for $450 million in July. The transfer is expected to be completed soon.
”I identified in February that a change needed to be made,” Riley said. ”The changes were in place before things started rolling with the ownership change. The action we took was to move away from Don Nelson and hire a new coach with a fresh outlook and all sorts of enthusiasm.”
Nelson guided the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years in 2007, but they have not returned since.
Smart played for Bobby Knight at Indiana and was on the Hoosiers’ 1987 national championship team. The Warriors drafted Smart in 1988, and he played briefly in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.
”I did not make any personnel decisions,” Smart said. ”My focus was preparing myself for training camp and figuring out how the pieces will fit with the team.”
Golden State brought in eight new players for the start of training camp, which opens Tuesday.
”This is a great opportunity for coach Smart,” Warriors’ point guard Stephen Curry said. ”It’s a great opportunity for him with all the new players and a different attitude. I’m looking forward to it. He’s a solid guy and shoots it to you straight.”
All-Star David Lee was the Warriors’ key offseason acquisition, coming over from the New York Knicks for three players. The 6-foot-9 power forward is expected to boost Golden State’s rebounding.
”I’m very optimistic,” Curry said. ”Our team defense is probably going to be better just with a new attitude.”
The Warriors were second in the NBA with a 108.8 scoring average and allowed 112.4 points a game.