Sacramento Kings general manager Geoff Petrie called Keith Smart "the right guy for now" when he announced Smart would be his new coach earlier this month.
It isn't the first time Smart has heard it put that way.
Last-minute reclamation projects appear to be Smart's specialty. First Cleveland. Then Golden State. Now Sacramento.
All three times he filled in for an ousted boss. All three times he has been asked to make the best of a messy situation. With the Kings, it appears he has the most talent he has had to work with -- and perhaps the biggest challenges he has had to overcome.
But those who know him say this is perfect for Smart, that he has the personality, perspective and preparation for such a task.
"When I saw he was hired, I thought he'd do a really good job," said former Warriors coach Don Nelson, whom Smart worked under for four years.
Smart returns to Oracle Arena for the first time as a head coach tonight, some nine months after Golden State gave him the boot. Sacramento hired Smart on Jan. 5 after firing Paul Westphal, the third time Smart has been called on by a franchise in a pinch.
In the 2002-03 season, Smart took over on an interim basis when Cleveland fired John Lucas 42 games into the season. The Smart-led Cavaliers went 9-31, one more victory than Lucas managed the first half of the season. Smart wasn't invited back the next season and headed for Oakland.
After seven years as a
Excited about his first full season as a head coach, Smart guided Golden State to 36 wins, a 10-game improvement.
However, Smart did not do well enough for the Warriors to pick up the next year of his contract.
"I've got nothing to be bitter about. I can hold my head up," Smart said in the preseason, when he visited Oracle as a Kings assistant. "I always want to leave things better than I found them, and I did that in Golden State."
Now Smart has been tasked with improving the Kings. Only this time, he is doing it on a two-year contract, not as a lame duck. And he has salary-cap space to work with, because the Kings have the league's lowest payroll.
Smart has some dynamic talent -- especially in third-year guard Tyreke Evans and second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins, who arguably has more talent than any Warriors center since Nate Thurmond.
But he also has his work cut out for him. Cousins has been considered a combustible personality since his days at Kentucky. Reportedly, a run-in with Westphal and an ensuing trade demand by Cousins led to Westphal's firing.
But Smart has some experience with eccentric personalities.
"He was really good with Monta (Ellis), and Monta needed a lot of help when he was younger," Nelson said.
Smart's best asset in dealing with potential problem players is his communication skills. Whether seated next to a player during practice going over film, giving him a talking to in the huddle or checking in via text message, Smart is constantly engaged in dialogue.
"He always had a special relationship with each of the guys," said Warriors center Andris Biedrins, one of the players closest to Smart. "He talks with each individual and really spends time with each player. Sometimes it's about the game, sometimes it's just about how you're doing. He communicated a lot, and that really helps. You can go to him and talk to him, even when you don't like something or as a friend, and he'll listen."
So far, Cousins has been issue-free since Smart took over.
Smart's other tasks include developing rookie point guard Jimmer Fredette -- he already has moved Fredette into the starting lineup -- and squeezing whatever production he can out of underachieving role players such as Donte Greene, Jason Thompson and Travis Outlaw.
The Kings have been in need of a culture change. Nearly a decade removed from their latest heyday and still on the hunt for a new arena, they are in desperate need of hope. Smart just may be the guy to provide that hope.
"He's passionate," said Stephen Curry, Smart's point guard last season. "He comes in with a great attitude and great energy every day. Even when things are bad, he's always positive. It makes you want to come in and rally behind him, knowing your coach is in it with you."