The Kings have fired coach Paul Westphal, according to CBS Sports.com. The conventional wisdom in the business world is that when leadership fails you, the best plan of action is to replace that leadership with a fresh face. We know how hirings and firings go in sports—often fans think that a changing of the guard in itself will morph the franchise and turn things into immediate good fortune.
These are the Sacramento Kings, unfortunately. The Kings are currently 2-5 and should be (at least) 4-3. To say that firing Westphal is going to make a significant difference would be foolish. On the other hand, there is definitely something to be said for cleaning house at the top. The Kings have some reasons to be excited, despite some terrible play of late, combined with a conceited baby crying in the other room.
Ignore Westphal's abysmal 51-120 record in two-plus seasons. Ignore the fact that DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans are tired of losing and can't stand the fact that nobody (including owners Joe and Gavin Maloof) seems to care. Ignore the fact that talent-wise, the Kings can beat just about every team in the Western Conference, given how watered down it is right now (maybe not the Blazers, Lakers—who the Kings already beat and Thunder).
The only thing that matters right now is that Westphal wasn't getting it done as a leader. What does a solid leader consist of?
A leader is someone that guides a group of people and helps them to be successful. In the NBA, this is one of the key elements to being a successful head coach. Just ask Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, or even Bill Russell (who won two titles as a player-coach and was the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Fun fact: Bill Russell coached the Kings for one season in 1987-88. They went 17-41 and he was fired).
These guys were successful because they knew how to guide their players and help them figure out how to win (although John Wooden would debate me on that winning part). Paul Westphal was a player himself and almost made it under the tutelage of Russell himself, playing for the Boston Celtics from 1972 to 1975 and amassing over 12,000 points in a 12-year career.
So where did he go wrong?
Why was he such an incompetent leader for a team that should have won a lot more games than it did?
Here's five reasons why.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof don't have nearly as much attention or energy invested in their team as they did 10 years ago. Let's just say this: there's a very clear correlation between winning percentage and fan engagement. With the Palms Hotel in Vegas attracting much of their attention, the Kings have completely failed to come up with any identity in Westphal's reign.
As the trickle-down process reveals, the money starts at the top and eventually runs down to everyone else. In this case, the drive to succeed on a franchise-wide level was killed for Westphal from day one, and it made it nearly impossible for him to continue.
Imagine your bosses in Vegas, hanging with Lil' Jon and focusing on how to better a different company than the one you work for?
Would you care about your job?
Or would you go to work hungover, tired and forget why you started working for them in the first place?
Enter Paul Westphal. (Also, just because it's funny and makes me feel better, maybe the Kings were actually coming to practice and games hungover for the last two years.)
You can't see it in this photo, but DeMarcus Cousins is definitely doing the Aaron Rodgers title belt dance. After they beat the Lakers. Once. With Bynum suspended and Kobe hurting.
Sure, Westphal benched DMC. Sure, he entered the game and was all of the sudden getting raspberries from diving all over the floor.
Hmm, need some more motivation, DeMarcus?
In a sense, it's not really Cousins' fault. It's partially the media's fault for bashing LeBron for going to South Beach and in part Carmelo's fault for not being able to stick it out in Denver and winning a f****** championship with Chauncey.
Either way, DMC demanded a trade and Westphal and general manager Geoff Petrie didn't know how to handle it. The point is, players have a sense of entitlement now and think they can move to any super-team and win a title—and management hasn't figured out how to deal with it. This is a league-wide epidemic, clearly.
Maybe Westphal never read Moneyball or saw the movie. I know Petrie didn't—otherwise, he would have sent DMC packing by saying, "DeMarcus, you're no longer needed here. We expect you to be out of here in one hour."
From rabid Kings fan, Daniel: "We should sacrifice Cousins in a backyard ceremony to bring Wooden back from the grave."
See? Somebody agrees with me.
Last year, it was the Francisco Garcia train wreck (meaning he played and wasn't good enough to not cause an Amtrak explosion on the court). This year, it's been a number of things, but most notably (and of course, what all fans want), Westphal's inability to play Jimmer Fredette.
There are so many things to be said about Jimmer Fredette, but one of them is abundantly clear. He plays better when you give him a leadership role. This is quite contrary to Westphal, who never could fully embrace his role as leader on the Kings.
When you go to open gym, it's always really hard to gell with strangers, right?
The easiest way to feel like you're playing well is when everyone else on the floor has no confidence and immediately trusts you with the ball (this has happened to me twice since I'm terrible so don't mistake my experience with cockiness). Jimmer was like this at BYU. He's like this now.
He needs to be given the ball. He needs to commit three turnovers a game so that he gains some confidence and starts shooting the ball like he did last night, despite the fact that he was 1-of-13 from the field.
Time on the court leads to confidence with the ball at an NBA level. I realize that I have ridiculously high expectations for Jimmer, but I want to see Tyreke Evans get his swagger back. The only way that happens is if he can play 2-guard instead of the point.
Simply put, the Kings don't call plays. They're playing street ball right now in every sense of the style of the play. There is zero team defense, no sense of trying to get guys open on offense, and their transition defense is what gets them down 42-22 to the Nuggets.
Westphal has a very poor track record when it comes to calling timeouts when the other team goes on a run, and he certainly wasn't able to control his players on the court. The Kings have four or five capable scorers in DMC, Tyreke, John Salmons (pictured in his 2008 stint with the Kings), Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette.
That's enough guys to figure out a solid system of play-calling that utilizes everyone's talent. Jimmer Fredette is drawing triple teams already. Teams are afraid of him.
If Westphal had recognized that, he would have gone straight to him from the beginning of games rather than waiting until the second quarter and forcing Tyreke Evans and John Salmons to play the point.
The fact is, coaching in the NBA takes three simple things: locker room ego control, a simple offensive set and setting a good example for young players. Think about how easy that is. It is far and away the simplest of head coaching positions in professional sports.
Soccer and hockey are similar to these roles as all three games require a lot of movement and fewer set plays than sports like baseball and football.
Westphal failed to do all three of these things.
Despite harboring some serious talent in his two-plus seasons as head coach, I'll always remember Westphal as the guy who wasn't able to bring them together. He was a nice guy and was cordial and appreciative enough with fans and I can't help but think that he was saddled with a bad situation.
On the other hand, John Wooden wouldn't have given up on his team because of poor management, bad attitudes, or lack of funding for a new stadium. He would have made his objectives clear and run the team so that they could be as successful as possible with what they were given.
A closing thought via Cameron, another psycho Kings fan. I received this text from him late last night after the Kings were squashed by a virtually talentless Nuggets team:
"The Kings just looked so bad tonight. I'm concerned about Westphal. I forgot how little I liked him last year. He needs to be on the young guys about defense and rebounding."
Bring on the Keith Smart era! (Did I just hear a collective Warriors fan snicker?)