By Tolulope Odadele
After a disappointing (2-5) start to the season, the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Paul Westphal. Most believe this termination was a direct result of Westphal openly feuding with the Kings’ big man DeMarcus Cousins, but it’s in fact more complicated than that. Since arriving to Sacramento Westphal was simply not winning games, sporting a 51-120 record as their head coach. To make matters worse, the Kings were losing by large margins through their first seven games:
Trail Blazers 101, Kings 79 on Dec. 27.
Bulls 108, Kings 98 on Dec. 29.
Knicks 114, Kings 92 on Dec.31.
Grizzlies 113, Kings 96 on Jan.3.
Nuggets 110, Kings 83 on Jan.4.
Another reason for Westphal’s firing was the personalities they had on their team. The Kings’ current roster is young and talented but the common dominator for most of them: ball domination and immaturity. Between Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Hickson, and Jimmer Fredette, it’s hard to give all these players enough touches to make everyone happy and effective. On top of this, it seemed that the Kings had no identity or system on the offense and defense. Their offense had no spacing, cuts, or set plays. It mostly comprised of isolations that led to contested jump shots, which players commented on after a loss to the Knicks. “I just try to get open as I can and create,” Evans said. “It’s no real set for me, nobody really in the offense. Just pass, cut. We lost; nobody really knows what to do.”
On defense they showed very little effort and communication, which led to the five embarrassing losses. But no one can deny the elephant in the room, Cousins. The scouting report on Cousins in high school, his days at Kentucky, and now with the Kings is that he has all the tools to be a superstar big man, but lacks the maturity or work ethic. He had a solid rookie year, averaging 14 points and 9 boards. Yet, he also fought with teammate Donte Green, made choking signs to Reggie Williams, and bullied other teammates in the locker room.
Things were looking up for Cousins when he arrived to training camp in better shape, poised for a breakout season. But once the Kings started to lose games, Cousins and Westphal started to feud with one another openly through the media and trade rumors started to circulate. As a result, the front office stepped in and let Westphal go. The disputes with Cousins played a role in Westphal’s termination, but his losing record since arriving in Sacramento (.292 winning percentage) truly did him in.
All in all, the Kings did make the right decision in firing Westphal, but it sadly reinforced the idea of “inmates running the asylum,” something that the organization should not be proud of. When choosing their next head coach, the front office had to be concerned with what would stop these players from running wild now that they know they probably would not be traded. The Kings need a no-nonsense coach who will create a system that these players can buy into. Keith Smart was a great choice as Westphal’s replacement because he likes to play up-tempo, which was exhibited with his short stint with the Warriors. Hopefully, Smart won’t succumb to Westphal’s fate, the situation where talent trumps the coach.