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Brooks learning on the job

SACRAMENTO — Scott Brooks claps his hands occasionally, points as he delivers instructions and never sits during the game.

Simply, he acts like he's been an NBA coach for a while. Which he has, by the way, for six games. Which, by the way, matches his starts during his 11-year NBA career.

"The butterflies are still there, there is no doubt," confided the Sacramento Kings' fill-in coach by way of Manteca's East Union High. "Six is my lucky number, Doctor J's number (for Julius Erving)."

If you think Brooks isn't counting, think again.

Not only does he recall his 0-for-4 record as coach while George Karl was suspended last season in Denver, he can recite the causes: "At Phoenix, it was on a back-to-back night, the next one was the only game Carmelo (Anthony) missed, then we lost at San Antonio, and we then lost in overtime to the Lakers."

So we'll assume Brooks won't forget his last two games, another fill-in job for the suspended Eric Musselman.

He'll hand the baton back to Musselman after victories Saturday night over the Denver Nuggets — his place of employment last season — and Monday night 105-99 over New Orleans/Oklahoma City.

And as Brooks already has figured out, 2-0 looks better on the résumé than 0-4.

"I feel good," he said. "When you win, the players play a bigger role than the coach. You have to throw it on the players."

Brooks couldn't reinvent the wheel the last two games, nor was that his intention.

He merely was Musselman's mouthpiece, but close observers of the Kings noticed a few subtle changes: The Kings played with a little more bounce in their step during Saturday night's win over the Nuggets and, after a huge lead all but disappeared against the Hornets, responded with a dose of grit not often seen this season.

Whether that was due to Brooks or Musselman's absence is still to be determined.

It already is common knowledge around Arco Arena, however, that some in the Kings' locker room are chafing against Musselman's tight rein, and that Brooks offered temporary relief.

Kevin Martin, hustling down the court following a 3-point basket, was low-fived by Brooks on Saturday night, a site that won't be repeated by Musselman.

The Kings coach is high energy, but it's not often directed toward his players.

Then there's Brooks, who gave a smile and a hand slap to Quincy Douby after the rookie banked in a triple off the glass Monday night.

There's something at work here.

It might be just the traditional good-guy assistant coach, the handy buffer who gleans good favor vs. the head coach and all the daily baggage he carries.

Or it could be something else.

"He will make a good coach when he gets his opportunity," Kings forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim said about Brooks after the game. "He has the basketball IQ. He did a good job communicating with everybody and showed confidence in everybody. He's been around the game a long time, and he's got the knowledge."

Most important for today's NBA rank and file, Brooks was a player and — in his heart of hearts — always will be a player.

The story has been well-told how skeptics dismissed his chances at each step — high school, Texas Christian, San Joaquin Delta, UC Irvine, the Albany Patroons and all the way to basketball's summit.

As the Kings sweated out the final moments against the Hornets, Brooks gazed toward the stands and mumbled, "Never easy."

It's never been that way for him, and it never will be easy for this limited team (20-26).

If the hoops tea leaves are read correctly, it's a 50-50 bet that Ron Artest and Mike Bibby will not be Kings teammates after the Feb. 22 trading deadline.

Their three-game win streak does not smooth over potentially choppy water ahead.

Meanwhile, Brooks returns to his accustomed spot on the bench and chalks it all up to experience.

At one point during the fourth quarter, the Kings labored along with four post players and Douby on the court. It was a dangerous lineup and one Brooks probably regrets but, hey, he's still learning on the job.

"You know my life story," he said. "I think it is every assistant coach's goal (to be a head coach). Some have a more realistic chance than others. As a player, my goal always was to be a starter. I went 4-2 as a starter (in his rookie year with Philadelphia following an injury to Maurice Cheeks)."

Brooks knows these numbers painfully well.

It follows that telling him he won't be a head coach guarantees that he will. NBA insiders believe he will gain his own NBA head-coaching gig someday, and only the foolish wager against him.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at 578-2302 or