If early results from our latest poll on potential management changes are any indication, Kings fans who frequent Sactown Royalty -- that is to say the most intelligent, interesting and handsome Kings fans on the planet -- have little interest in blaming architect Geoff Petrie for the team's dispiriting start. Paul Westphal does receive some measure of blame from the community, but, in total, the majority of fans feel comfortable letting the current structure marinate.
Good. I feel the same way. Let's let the season develop.
It strikes me as amazing, though, how little criticism Petrie takes. The Kings are on pace for their fifth consecutive season in the bottom 10 in the NBA in defense. (This assumes that the last two games haven't been the franchise's discovery of defensive gold.) That span captures three head coaches (Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus and Paul Westphal) plus one interim head coach (Kenny Natt). It captures myriad players, including six first-round picks, a boatload of trades and now two summers of unused cap space. Still, through it all, the Kings defense since 2006 has been consistently bad.
At what point do the team's long-term defensive problems stop being hung around the coaches' heads? How many coaches does Sacramento go through before the spotlight shifts to Petrie's chair?
We know better than most fans how much having the right personnel matters on defense. We know this because we have rarely had playable defensive talent. When we do, it comes in the form of otherwise limited players, like Dahntay Jones, a nice perimeter stopper who was (at the time, at least) an overmatched wing on offense. Or Jason Hart, a self-professed stopper who couldn't hit the broad side of Charles Barkley with Kenny Smith's stun gun. Or, LOL, Greg Ostertag. Or Justin Williams. Or even Samuel Dalembert, who despite being more skilled than predicted is still rather unskilled.
On the one hand, you can look at that list of players (add in Ime Udoka, Antoine Wright, Orien Greene, Shelden Williams, Hilton Armstrong and Dominic McGuire) and say, "Hey, see! He thinks about defense! All those guys suck on offense! The coaches just can't implement the personnel properly."
To me, that's the wrong way to look at it.
Concerning defense in the post-Adelman era, Petrie has tried to throw a series of quick fixes on the gaping problem instead of addressing the systemic problem. Instead of drafting a potential defensive star, or trading for defensive stars, or signing defensive stars in free agency, Petrie has continued to chase the scorers, the skilled big men, the hot-shooting wings. His comment to season ticket holders about offense being the problem struck a
chord nerve with me because it was completely indicative of his mindset as the franchise's decision-maker.
Here the Kings are, owning the offensive glass and leading the league (the league!) at that point in turnover rate (now 6th), with a very solid offensive rating in total while the team struggles because it can't stop ANYBODY. And here Petrie is, complaining about the offense. That comment alone summed up the post-Adelman era: defense doesn't matter.
It didn't matter when the team hired Westphal over Tom Thibodeau, or when the team essentially brushed off Elston Turner. (I understand there were mitigating, Adelman-related concerns with Turner. He still ran the Kings' defense during the only Sacramento-era span of note during which the Kings' defense wasn't a complete embarrassment.) It didn't matter when the team allowed Theus to make Chuck Person -- Chuck Person! -- his "defensive coordinator."
It didn't matter when Petrie picked a rail-thin Brad Miller clone out of Washington 10th overall. Or skipped the ultra-athletic guard with arms that stretch from Lexington to Mars in favor of a sweet-shooting guard from NYC. Is this all revisionist criticism? Sure. But they were all bad decisions, and just because others made bad mistakes or would have had they the opportunity (raises hand) doesn't just change that.
The individual decisions can be explained away. The Maloofs forced Theus. ... The Bulls took Noah before Petrie could. ... Everyone missed on Rondo. ... I never told Reggie he could let Chuck F---king Person run the defense! But you can't explain away the oeuvre. Rivers Cuomo can explain why each individual song he nows presents as art didn't turn out the way he liked, but can't explain away a devolution into regrettable, commercial pap over the last decade. Charles Barkley can, with a straight-face, tell you he really needed that second short stack because of his really hard cardio workout. But he can't explain away why he weighs 3.4 Ernie Johnsons.
Some problems are systemic. Weezer sucks. Charles Barkley is fat. Geoff Petrie cannot put together a good defensive team. Weezer didn't always suck. Charles Barkley wasn't always fat. Geoff Petrie wasn't always unable to put together a good defensive team. But that's the reality right now.
That's why it amazes me that Petrie skates free in the public eye. Again, I don't think the Kings need to fire Petrie right now or anything. I see what he's doing, and Lord knows it will take a bit more time. I know that. I predicted a 32-50 record this season. But I remain concerned that, if things continue to sour, the wrong man's seat will be on fire. If this team fails to grow, Westphal and Petrie need to share the blame.