When the Sacramento Kings went from Jerry Reynolds to Bill Russell and back to Reynolds, at least one NBA observer endorsed the latest coaching move. "I may not be the best guy they could hire right now," said Jerry Reynolds, "but I can't think of anyone better."

So here he is, trying to rebuild the Kings, who play the Jazz in the Salt Palace tonight.This is a job for somebody with a little perspective. When Reynolds outlined his starting lineup during a preseason conference call, he said, "That should pretty well scare the rest of the teams in the league."

But seriously, Jerry, trading away Reggie Theus and Otis Thorpe was a little risky, right? "If you're building around guys and you win 24 games," he replied, "how big a risk is that? Maybe you fall apart and win 23."

That's Reynolds, definitely the most underrated comic in tonight's matchup with Layden and part of the new trend in NBA coaches. Pro teams are looking less to the Pat Riley model, the player who becomes a broadcaster, then assistant coach and head coach, and more toward real basketball coaches.

Just the same, the 44-year-old Reynolds is a little extreme. Only three years ago, he was coaching at Pittsburg (Kan.) State - just about every school he coached, you see, is the kind that needs the location in parentheses. He started at Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College as an assistant coach, helping develop Bob McAdoo and Rickey Green, before moving on to West Georgia State and finally becoming a head coach at Rockhurst (Mo.) College.

After a year at Pittsburg, Phil Johnson hired him as an assistant coach/scout when the Kings moved to Sacramento. The next thing anybody knows, he's the Kings' head coach again, this time without "interim" on the nameplate.

Well, most coaches are interim coaches, anyway.

"I'm not a total idiot," says Reynolds. "I realize most people are waiting for me to fail. My immediate goal is to break the exisiting record here and make it through the year without being fired."

We can resist no longer. Unlike Layden and the Jazz in the old days, the Kings are waiting for Reynolds to be a winner before advertising his sense of humor.But while Reynolds is not always looking for chances to deliver standard one-liners like Layden, he can hardly avoid using his trademarks of dry understatement and overstatement in conversation. In 10 Minutes of that conference call with NBA writers last month, he came through with these:

On replacing scorers like Theus and Thorpe: "Its not hard to find guys to shoot the ball. Whether they can make it or not, that's the question."

On center Ben Gillery, who hardly played at Georgetown: "I fully expect him to be the dominant center in the NBA by March. It may take longer than that, but by about March. We are amazing coaches, as you know, and we can speed up the development miraculously."

When he took over as head coach again last March, he said at a press conference, "We've got to stop meeting like this every year."

Considering that former Kings assistant Willis Reed probably would have replaced Russell, except that Reed took over at New Jersey the week before, Reynoldssaid, "I had to pull some strings in Jersey. I'm big back there. The big trick was getting (former coach) Dave Wohl fired. " Reynolds contends that he's only the second-most famous Jerry Reynolds in the NBA, although the Jerry Reynolds who plays forward for Seattle is losing some ground. But Reynolds says he's fading on the list of famous people from his home town of French Lick, Ind. Not only is Larry Bird ahead of him, but so is Bird's younger brother, Eddie, who plays at Indiana State.

Oh, well.

If Reynolds can make the Kings a winner, he might move ahead of both Birds. Asked about the state of the Kings last spring, he said, "When we started off the year, we wanted to build ourselves a foundation. Instead, we dug ourselves a hole. That doesn't mean we can't build a basement and go from there."

So he now has Randy Wittman, Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen instead of Theus and Thorpe and is trying to survive as a genuine NBA head coach. If not . . . "That's OK, too," says Reynolds. "I know what real work is. I don't want to do it, though."