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Theus firing was necessary for reeling Kings

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Dec 16 2008 11:05AM

Reggie Theus kept the trend going Monday -- the sixth NBA head coach to be fired in six weeks. The Sacramento Kings, mired in last place in the Pacific Division with a woeful 6-18 record and dwindling support from one of the league's top fan bases, dismissed Theus and assistant coach Chuck Person on Monday morning. Assistant coach Kenny Natt was named interim coach for the rest of the season.

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"We didn't really have a choice, is how I see it," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said by telephone Monday. "We love Reggie and we were really pulling for him. I had a nice conversation with him and wished him luck."

Saturday's 114-90 home loss to the Knicks marked the ninth time this season the Kings lost by 15 points or more. Four of those defeats had come at Arco Arena, which was once a pit for opposing teams to visit but now is filled with docile fans -- at least those that come. Sacramento is next to last in the league in attendance, drawing just 12,307 per game to its building, 4,000 less than capacity.

Team president Geoff Petrie recommended Theus' firing to Maloof and his brother, co-owner Gavin Maloof, in a meeting Sunday evening.

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Theus was Sacramento's fall-back choice as head coach less than two years ago, after the team fired its winningest coach, Rick Adelman. Sacramento believed it had reached an agreement with Stan Van Gundy to replace Adelman, only to see Van Gundy back out and instead take the head job in Orlando. The Kings interviewed Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis and now-Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks before choosing Theus, who'd played for Sacramento during his playing days and was coming off a strong showing as head coach at New Mexico State.

Theus went 38-44 in his rookie season, getting the Kings close to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But the Maloofs let him know that the heat was on when they declined to pick up the third-year option on his contract for the 2009-10 season, essentially making him a lame duck. Sacramento started the season with 18- and 34-point losses, and the Kings never really recovered.

Injuries have been a factor. The team's best player, guard Kevin Martin, has missed more than half of the season. But the lack of development of some of Sacramento's other players, like guard Francisco Garcia, played a part as well, Joe Maloof said. The Kings have young talent like center Spencer Hawes, power forward Jason Thompson, Martin and small forward Donte Greene (acquired in the Ron Artest trade this summer), but that talent has yet to coalesce.

"We weren't progressing," Maloof said. "We were regressing instead of progressing. We didn't get the sense we were going anywhere. We were spinning on wheels. You can't have those kinds of home losses. We were losing games by 20 points."

Natt has spent the last 13-plus years as an assistant for the Kings, Jazz and Cavaliers after a brief NBA playing career in the 1980s, and held management and coaching positions in basketball's minor leagues before joining Utah as a scout. Maloof said Natt would get an opportunity to show he deserves the job on a permanent basis.

"We need somebody with that kind of experience," Joe Maloof said. "If anybody has paid his dues, it's Kenny."

It's been a precipitous drop for Sacramento, which rose from NBA obscurity under Petrie in the late 1990s. Petrie acquired Chris Webber from Washington, Doug Christie from Toronto, signed free agents Vlade Divac and Bobby Jackson and drafted up-and-coming talents like Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu and Gerald Wallace to create a powerhouse in the west. The Kings got as far as the Western Conference finals in 2003, when they waged an epic seven-game battle with the Lakers before losing the decisive game on their home court.

But since then, the Kings have fallen back to the middle of the pack and, now, back to the bottom.

In joining P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington), Sam Mitchell (Toronto), Randy Wittman (Minnesota) and Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia), Theus is the latest coach to fall in a seeming firing frenzy. Never has "what have you done for me lately?" been such an appropriate phrase for a head coach to hear.

"Every owner wants to win immediately," Maloof said. "The owners wouldn't be where they are if they didn't have that kind of competitive drive. They're just as competitive as the players and coaches. You're right there on the court. You can feel it. You can see it when they're not performing the way you think they should. You've got to have something that the fans can grasp and hold onto."

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