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“Of course people are going to tie (Westphal’s firing) to me,” Cousins said. “It will just show their ignorance. But like I said, it’s not my decision.”

The Kings had high hopes for a major turnaround this year.

Teamed with 2009-10 rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, Cousins was expected to anchor the front line for a young and emerging roster in the deep Western Conference. Sacramento finished 24-58 last season and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year, although a late-season surge behind a healthy Evans provided hope that maybe the Kings weren’t that far off from making the postseason again.

Turns out, the Maloofs couldn’t wait any longer.

“We have a lot of respect for Paul and he’s a classy individual. But it’s time for a change,” Gavin Maloof said at halftime of the Kings-Bucks game. “We just got to put everything behind us, all of the negatives and try and push forward and think positive.”

The NBA and the Maloofs have given Sacramento a March 1 deadline to approve a plan to help finance a new arena, or the franchise could again explore relocation. The Kings nearly moved south to Anaheim, Calif., in April before the league’s Board of Governors decided to give Sacramento another chance.

Now the Cousins conflict is Smart’s responsibility to fix.

Smart, the former Indiana guard best known for hitting “The Shot” against Syracuse that won the Hoosiers the 1987 NCAA title, spent seven years as an assistant with Golden State before he replaced the ousted Don Nelson just before training camp last year. The Warriors went 36-46 under Smart, a 10-game improvement from the previous season but not enough to appease new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.

Smart said he never imagined his next chance coming so soon. While taking over for a fired coach is not the type of opportunity he envisioned, he feels comfortable with the decision after Westphal passed along his blessings.

“He said, `Don’t do anything stupid and reject this. I want you to coach this team,’” Smart said of Westphal. “He felt it, and I felt that he meant it from the bottom of his heart.”

Asked how he would approach Cousins differently after watching Westphal’s relationship with the center go sour, Smart smiled and said, “Probably have a good relationship with him.”

His job may depend on it.


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