Kings fire coach Reggie Theus

Updated: December 16, 2008, 1:53 AM ET
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Reggie Theus got barely more than 100 games to lead the Sacramento Kings before they headed in yet another direction with yet another new head coach.

Theus was fired by Sacramento on Monday after a 6-18 start to his second season with the club. Assistant coach Kenny Natt led the last-place Kings to a 118-103 victory over Minnesota a few hours later, just Sacramento's second win in 12 games.

Natt, a first-time head coach who has the job on an interim basis, is the fourth coach in less than three years for the Kings, who are in disarray after a prolonged run as one of the NBA's elite clubs earlier in the decade.

Assistant coach Chuck Person was fired along with Theus, who went 44-62 in his brief tenure with Sacramento.

"We feel for him, because Reggie is a great guy who did a lot for this organization," said guard Bobby Jackson, who experienced a midseason coaching change for the first time in his 12 NBA seasons. "Coach Natt, he's like a drill sergeant. He's from the old school, and I'm looking forward to that. If you work hard, you're going to play. That's his philosophy."

Before routing Minnesota in Natt's encouraging debut, the Kings had lost 10 of 11 to fall into the Pacific Division cellar, with only a win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the last 3½ weeks. Sacramento's 24-point home loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday night -- the ninth loss in 10 games at Arco Arena -- was Theus' final game.

"When you look at the overall level of performance that we've experienced this year, it's just not where we want to be," said Geoff Petrie, the Kings' top basketball executive. "Sometimes you just need to try a different voice if you want to try and change things. It's not about just any one game."

Theus is the sixth coach fired in the NBA already this season, following P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington), Sam Mitchell (Toronto), Randy Wittman (Minnesota) and Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia), who was dismissed Saturday.

Natt is in his second season with the Kings after three years as an assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who reached the NBA finals in 2007. He played three NBA seasons, including a stint with the Kansas City Kings, before moving up the coaching ranks in a path that included nine seasons as an assistant to Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who called Natt with pregame congratulations.

Theus said he was grateful for the opportunity to run an NBA club early in his coaching career, claiming he wouldn't change anything about his short tenure in Sacramento.

"It was a great experience, and I just wish I could have seen it through," Theus told KHTK-AM, the Kings' flagship radio station. "For it to have been better, a lot of things would have had to have been different. ... I think we were entertaining. Good and bad, when people came to games, it was fun."

Theus played 13 seasons in the NBA, memorably scoring the first basket for the first Kings team in Sacramento after the club's move to Northern California in 1985. He went 38-44 in his debut season as head coach after the Kings hired him away from New Mexico State, where he built a solid program that marked him as an up-and-coming coaching prospect.

But with star guard Kevin Martin sidelined by injuries for all but nine games this season, Sacramento has been among the NBA's worst teams, often giving lackluster efforts that drew boos from the halfhearted crowds at Arco Arena, which was sold out for 354 consecutive games before last season's opener.

Martin's left ankle injury and Sacramento's unimpressive roster weren't excuses for owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, who have publicly voiced their displeasure with their franchise's direction in recent weeks.

Some league observers criticized the Kings' coaching staff for its lack of experience, saying Theus leaned too heavily on Person, another former NBA player with a meager coaching resume. Theus dismissed those theories, reaffirming his faith in Person.

The Kings have been in a downward spiral since even before May 2006, when veteran coach Rick Adelman was dismissed by the Maloofs. Adelman won 395 games and led the Kings to eight consecutive playoff appearances and winning seasons, but no NBA Finals.

After making that move over the objections of Petrie, the Maloofs then hired Eric Musselman, who lasted just one tumultuous season before getting fired amid multiple personality conflicts.

Theus, the sharp-dressed ex-athlete who dabbled in acting and broadcasting before becoming a coach, seemed an ideal coach for the showbiz-loving Maloofs, and he did better than many expected in his rookie year. But a slow start convinced the impatient Maloofs to change direction again -- and it will cost them financially.

Theus' departure means the Kings will be paying three head coaching salaries this season to Natt, Theus and Musselman, who still has a year left on his contract.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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