It didn’t take long for the axe to fall in the shortened NBA season as the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Paul Westphal on Jan. 5 with the club’s 2-5 record cementing them in the basement of the Pacific Division. Geoff Petrie, the head of basketball operations for the Kings, said the team wasn’t performing as well as expected and assistant coach Keith Smart would take over the reins. Smart won his first game in charge with the Kings beating Milwaukee 103-100 the night Westphal was let go.
It appears to many that the firing was somehow related to Westphal’s relationship with center DeMarcus Cousins. For some reason Cousins and Westphal just couldn’t get along and team owners Gavin and Joe Maloof decided it would be easier to replace the coach than one of their star players, especially a 61-year-old coach who had a 51-120 record with the club. This is an important season for the Kings since they’re hoping to gain momentum towards getting a new arena.
Westphal thanked the players, his coaching staff and the Maloofs after packing his bags and said he appreciated the opportunity they gave him. He said there’s still a long way for the club to go, but felt they at least took some steps in the right direction. However, his relationship with Cousins seemed to be consuming much of his time lately.
He criticized the player’s commitment to the team in a statement on Dec. 31 and didn’t play him against New Orleans. In addition, he said that Cousins had asked the franchise to trade him, which was then denied by the player and his agent. Petrie claimed he knew Westphal planned to release his statement regarding Cousins, but neither of the Maloofs knew about it.
After Westphal was fired, Cousins said there have been quite a few misunderstandings and the last week has been pretty emotional. He added that it comes with the territory though and he felt Westphal was a good coach and a fine teacher to a lot of the players, but ultimately it was a decision made by the team’s management.
The 21-year-old Cousins was drafted in 2010 fifth overall out of Kentucky. At the time of the firing he was playing 26 minutes a game with a 13.7 point scoring average along with 9.3 rebounds. He’s had a reputation of being a volatile character though ever since high school and his work ethic and conditioning have often been questioned.
He said he realizes a lot of people are going to blame him for Westphal’s demise, but reiterated that it was the management’s decision. Westphal was depending on Cousins to help the team improve on last year’s 24-58 record and was hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in six years. But with the team struggling early on the Maloofs didn’t want to dig an early and deep hole that they couldn’t get out of.
Gavin Maloof said Westphal’s a great guy, but it was time to make a change and push for a postseason spot before things got out of hand. The franchise is also still waiting to hear about a new arena in Sacramento and will find out by the deadline on March 1. If they don’t get a new rink, the club could end up relocating, possibly to Anaheim.
Smart said being named the new head coach was a bit of a surprise to him, especially so early in the season, but added that Westphal engaged him in a heart-to-heart talk and gave him a vote of confidence. He’s gotten off to a good start, but still needs improve the coaching relationship with Cousins to succeed over the long haul.