The Smart Handshake Agreement

On the first day of training camp, head coach Keith Smart made a pact with his players. He sealed it with a handshake from each player.

ANDRIS BIEDRINS: “I was thinking, ‘Shake his hands or not?’ (laugh) He was like holding (his hand out), holding, holding. Finally I was like ‘OK.’ “

What was the pact? Basically, that they don’t take anything personal. Smart said he wanted to make it clear in advance that when he gets on them, he isn’t trying to dog them out, but trying to make them better. He wanted their approval to be hard on them at times without it becoming an issue, to challenge them without it turning into anything more.

That agreement was challenged in Friday’s win over Utah. During the timeout, at the 2:49 mark of the second quarter, Smart could be seen barking at his $80 million power forward, who then barked back.

KEITH SMART: “At times when you’re not doing what you need, I’m going to let you know. But also know that I don’t hang on to anything. It’s over. He was supposed to do something, and he didn’t do it.”

What didn’t Lee do?

DAVID LEE: “I had two plays that I should’ve to finish. He told me I needed to go up and stop being soft on the two finishes. Then I told him I got fouled on both. We exchanged a few words, but he knows the respect I have for him. He knows that was one of those heat of the moment — like we talked about with the referees, same type of deal — a heat of the moment play. At halftime, he said, ‘Look, I know you have a good heart, and know that you were just fired up.’ I wasn’t disrespectful to him in anyway. I have a lot of respect for coach and what he’s done with our team thus far. So it was just two hot heads going at it for about 10 seconds and then he patted me on the back and I patted him on the back and we were right back at it. We had a good run before the end of the quarter.”

Lee missed back-to-back gimmies inside late in the second quarter, one at the 3:21 mark and the other 20 seconds later. They came in the middle of a 6-0 Utah run. According to Lee, the exchange went like this:

I said “You’re right. I should have finished it. What was I thinking?”

He said, “Well finish it next time.”

I said (voice raising), “Well, I’m trying to finish it!”

He said, “You’ve been finishing.”

I said, “All right. Well, I’m trying.”

Lee, who spent five seasons in Drama Central while with the Knicks, said he knows that situation could’ve grown into something worse. And Smart knows how lingering feuds and poor communication can disrupt a locker room. He saw his share of player-coach beefs under Don Nelson — who had lenghthy issues with Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Al Harrington, to name a few. But both parties held this moment up as an example of the rapport and culture of accountability they’ve been able to build since the start of training camp.

SMART: “They know its not personal. They know it won’t linger. From the moment that happen to the time we went back on the floor, it was over. And that’s how I operate. And they know that. We’ve all agreed with each other with a handshake that I can coach you. And I recommitted that today at shootaround. ‘Do I still have permission to coach you to help us win basketball games? And they all agreed.”

Smart said he didn’t mind Lee barking back at him in the heat of the moment. He has said repeatedly that his coaching philosophy makes allowances for the fact that he is dealing with grown men. He said he recognizes they have feelings, big contracts and some bass in their voice.

SMART: “These are not my children. My children know not to say something and move on. But these are grown men. They are going to say things. I can’t treat this guy like a child. In the heat of the battle, he thought he did something the right way, I saw that it was wrong.  But in the end, we came back together as a coach and a player, and that’s how we operate.

“We had a disagreement. We came back together. And now we’re going to go get ice cream.”

Marcus Thompson

  • Taylor

    I gotta admit I was one of the few who like Nelson as aggravating as he could be he brilliant offensively and his comic presence kept me on my toes but after I know only 5 game I am thoroughly impressed with Smart. He has these guys playing harder than I have ever seen them boxing out fighting for rebounds its great to see they just got to keep it up we have the talent especially as we get Amundson and Udoh back for more depth. Wouldn’t mind seeing BWright get a little burn though I think he can help if he gets his confidence up

  • Tony

    Now this is some good reporting right here – nice work.
    We are super lucky to have both of them – so glad we dumped Nellie.
    Not to hate on departed players, but can you imagine how AR would have responded to Smart tearing into him like that in the middle of a close game if AR screwed up?
    Also, if Smart is telling his player to be men, take criticism like adults, play hard for 48 minutes and don’t let the drama linger – maybe this explains why BWright may not be his favorite warrior at the moment

  • dengel1925

    The Warriors have won two games in a row that they’d have lost last year, folding in the stretch. I can’t see any reason for that except the coaching. Keith Smart is the best thing that’s happened to the Warriors in a long, long time. It’s great to watch a really effective coach. What a difference from last year!

  • Fadein2Bolivian

    I was a Nelson supporter,too,and still think he got blamed for too much, but I love what Smart’s doing. Rotations, timeouts, everything.

    Monta resting early in the 4th was huge in the last 2 games.

    It’s early, but if you’re looking at a path for the W’s to make the playoffs, do you see Phoenix and Utah being the 2 teams who made it last year that don’t make it this year, allowing the W’s and Hornets in?

  • commish

    Whatever Smart did it is clearly working. I was a true Nelson hater but have really wanted to leave all that negativity behind me. Being at the Utah game and even Memphis sure made that easier.

  • Now that Randolph is gone, this is probably the most coachable group in the NBA. No knuckleheads. No contract agendas. Everyone super-high IQ and unselfish.

    Keith Smart is blessed by the roster Nellie left behind.

  • Ron

    I have written this before. I have worked at Summer league the past 5 years. In a few interactions Coach Smart was always personable. Would look you in the eye. I say this because many of the teams staff there have that I am better than you attitude and just look through anyone they feel are not on their social level. I am glad he was given the chance to be the W’s coach. I am rooting for him!

  • MWLX

    Marcus, you’re the only one I’ve seen write about that blowup, and I’m glad you filled in the details. Jim Barnett made a cogent point on the telecast: Keith Smart had been everybody’s friend as an assistant coach, but could he be tough enough when he needed to be, as a head coach? After seeing this, Barnett said Keith Smart is definitely tough enough, and I agree. I like the way he handled it, getting tough, but not getting personal and nasty. Many coaches don’t know the difference.

    On the other hand, I’m very disappointed in your story in today’s Tribune. Here we are with good feelings about how the Warriors have started the season, and you bring up BS stuff about how the Warriors might still trade Monta Ellis. For pete’s sake, that story could be written about virtually any team and any player at any time of the season. With the exception of Kobe, LBJ, Durant and DWade, any player is tradeable at any time for the right pieces. Not to be ridiculous, but give us the Hornets starting lineup, and Monta is gone. Is it going to happen? No. Is there a story in this? No, unless you have reliable sources who said it’s being discussed. Did you? No.

    What motivated you to write this story at this time is what I would call journalist’s disease — the overwhelming need to find conflict or controversy, even when there is none. Generally, you’ve avoided this type of story, leaving it to your assinine colleague, Kawakami. This was a low point, in my book.

  • manhattanproj

    not to rain on the parade, as the w’s are jumping starting this season, and it’s probably still early to ponder such question. but the last nelson’s protege by the name of avery johnson also started and did well in his first year. but how has he fared since?

    i noticed there’s quite a bit of positive press going on for smart right now. from this piece to T.K.’s, i hope smart does well but at the same time, i think we should temper our enthusiasm a little.

    now the question is if smart goes on and have a +/- .500 season, a BIG if, what would new management do?

  • W’s in 2010

    I’m really enjoying a season without the BS mind games, oh this is so lovely.

  • WetLunGz

    I am very suprised by how well this team is playing. I used to be a nellie fan (mostly cuz everyhbdy else was hating on him) and as much as he helped monta, curry, watson, morrow, azubuike really enhance there offensive game, I can really see now how badly he affected team morale, and how poorly he handled things with the players. I was skeptical at first about Smart, but he is proving he can make grown men play hard, night in and night out. And I have a lot of respect for him now as a coach. Well see how he does on wed witout monta….