I don’t like to see anyone lose their job and do not look forward to the eventual firing of Paul Westphal. But if the move is to made in the near future, and I think if the Kings record slides in the ghastly direction it is coursing over the next few weeks, say 5-22, or 6-28, walking papers are inevitable. And there will be plenty of evidence to support the decision. Further as the door hits him on the way out it will difficult to say he did not get a fair shake. Many of these points have been made before on this board, but I want to summarize them and expand on a few ideas I think Geoff Petrie may be pondering as he watches this nightmare of a Kings season unfold.
Request Made, Request Granted: Geoff Petrie has made the point that all factors being equal, he makes an effort to acquire players to fit the coaches philosophy and requested needs. Last year, it was strongly implied that Westphal did not hold the game of Kevin Martin in the highest regard when he declared K-Mart to be the best scorer on the team, but was unwilling to label him as best player. When Kevin returned from injury, Westphal did not go out of his way incorporate him back into the offense with designated play calls for #23. The respect that K-Mart earned as a player over 5+ years with the previous coaching regimes did not seem to carry over to the newest regime, excluding Yoda carryover, Coachie Carrill.
Coinciding with the backcourt issues, the front court was unsettled with Spencer Hawes in and mostly out of the coaches favor, with his high post skill set clashing with his newly assigned low post role. Square peg into a round hole. To quote the inimitable Homer Simpson, doh! Paul Westphal tried to turned Hawes into something he was not, and the end result was a mixed bag of unsteady progression and being jettisoned to Philly.
Ultimately Petrie bears the responsibility for the trades of K-Mart and Hawes and whether they eventually pay dividends or not. But I strongly contend that Westphal had significant influence in swapping out two primary pieces of our rebuild for perceived more toughness and frontline help. Westphal requested tougher players and got them. Petrie catered to the influence of Westphal and his impeccable standing at the time in effort to help him succeed. Petrie had the opportunity to show loyalty to his head coach or two draft picks that he at once coveted as players, and he chose the former. His loyalty is now being severely tested as the team regresses in spite of the coaches wish list being fulfilled.
Plan A, Play B, Plan WTF?!? Last year there was a stated desire by Westphal to team up Tyreke with a backcourt mate to exploit the size advantage. The thinking was sound, and to me it still is, to force mismatches by putting a SG with size on the court to force the smaller PG to defend out of the post, to force doubles and create open looks. Omri and Donte saw time at SG. Cisco when healthy. We went 6’6” and 6”7+ across guard line. Not anymore. Now we go 6‘6 and 6‘3. With Luther Head and Beno as primary running mates, attempts to exploit size advantage has been abandoned. Opposing PGs switch over to Head or Beno, and Tyreke is left with a larger defender on him, such as Kobe and Artest last night, with a larger one waiting behind. What changed? Paul Westphal seems less interested in dictating match-ups than scrambling at every turn to respond to the perceived advantage of an opponent. He is no longer proactive, he coaches out of fear of what the opponent may do.
This has been beaten to death, but bears repeating for the umpteenth time: Jason Thompson was a center towards the end of last season, so how the friggin’ frick did he become a SF? Did he undergo a reverse growth spurt over the summer? Did Westphal confuse JT with his little brother? This plan was mind boggling to me. Westphal wanted us to believe he needed to get his best players on the court, and the log jam at ‘4’ and ‘5’ necessitated swinging JT to the ‘3’. I would disagree with this even if Landry did not come to camp overweight and rusty, Sammy D was not oft-injured and could shoot better than 40%, and Big Cuz was not leading the NBA in fouls, but such was not the case. JT should have either received minutes on his own merits ahead of those guys at his true position, or not at all. He was set up to underperform, and by virtue the team was as well.
The JT experiment appears to have been abandoned due to futility. But this alone, irrespective of anything else Westphal has said or done, is a fireable offense. Every minute JT played at SF was a lost minute, and every game he played there is a lost game on the way to a lost season. It is close to inconceivable that a head coach could have such a lack of grasp on his own personnel to ask a player to perform that far out of their comfort zone and skill set, all the while trying to sell it as a feasible idea.
Since You Can’t Do What I Ask, You Can’t Do What You Can: Carl Landry and Omri Casspi have been asked to defend and rebound to gain playing time. Fine. But in the process of asking them to become more well-rounded players, please do not forget what they can do. Score and make plays. By focusing on weakness, Westphal negates strengths. Instead of catering a system to his players, he asks players to conform to his rigid system, i.e. having the ‘3’ player go stand in the corner and make the 3 pointer even though you are ignored for 22 out of 24 seconds on the shot clock. More ball movement, motion offense, touches are needed for both these players as potent scoring weapons. Omri averages 7 FGAs and Carl 11 FGAs per game. Too low. Their talents are being underutilized. Westphal has weapons at his disposal and can’t figure out what to do with them. This is not competent coaching.
Out of Timeouts, Out of Ideas: So if Westphal is not so stellar at inspiring cohesion and teamwork, nor finding an effective starting lineup or logical substitution pattern, maybe he is a competent X and Os kind of coach who can draw up an out of bounds play smartly toward end of quarters and out of timeouts? S-t-r-i-k-....errr, just a bit outside! Our out of bounds plays consist primarily of isolating one player with the ball, usually Tyreke, pounding the ball to let the defense set, ready and perfectly able, and then willingly watch as the Kings proceed to make one to zero passes to result in low to mediocre percentage look, assuming a turnover does not occur first. I don’t have stats to back it up, but rarely do I recall a back door cut, more than one pass being made, an effective screen being set to free up a player for an easy shot. Basically none of the components that result in a high percentage play are evident once Westphal has opportunity to diagram a play during dead ball. Conclusively, the strategic message is either flawed or he is unable to communicate effectively. As the inimitable Homer Simpson would say, double doh!!!
No Point Guard, No Shooting Guard, No Leadership: Westphal contends that within his brilliant system there is not a designated PG nor a designated SG. Instead there are two guards with similar responsibility within the offense. I can concede to the fact that our backcourt players possess combo guard skills, and should use those skills to the fullest, but without a designated leader to keep everyone involved and find balance and identify mismatches, 85 points becomes an average team scoring output. Is Tyreke the player to run an offense? Beno? Both? Roles are so murky and scattered, chaos and confusion have ensued. One of the biggest failings so far this year is that Westphal seems have little connection with his own players, including his best in Evans. With little connection between player and coach, there is less connection between player and player. Last year Tyreke dominated games by getting to the rim, and pushing tempo in transition. And by being the PG over 90% of the time. This year Westphal has Tyreke penetrating into congested lane, playing off the ball, on the ball, out of the post, on the wing, and top of the key. Meaningful strategy either does not exist or has not been implemented. There is no leadership on the court or off, and the inability to nurture such a role falls squarely upon the head coaches’ shoulders. I would suggest that to return this team to some level of competence Tyreke needs to assume the role of PG almost all of time he is on the court, and bear the responsibility of creating for others before himself. Apparently Westphal feels differently, and we have witnessed the anemic results.
Unwillingness to Take Responsibility: Someone, perhaps Ziller, made a point in his commentary a few days ago regarding a post game press conference in which Westphal assumed a defensive posture and disassociation from his players, and readily assigning the loss to an inability of team to execute. A man’s true character is revealed during times of adversity. While I think Paul is a kind, forthright and thoughtful individual, it was disconcerting that he separated himself from the team so readily. He is not a blogger nor journalist nor fan on the outside looking in, he is intricate part of the success or failure of the team, and should acknowledge the extent of his role, and his capacity to improve. How has this team any chance of coming together if their own head coach acts as a disparaging and divisive force to the media instead of a uniting influence? A struggling team needs a coach to lead and align himself with his players in full support, not attempt to dissolve himself of culpability in effort of self-preservation. I would respect Paul a lot more if he flatly stated that along with his players, that he and his coaching staff can, and need, to do better. But so far he would have us belief his coaching performance is beyond reproach. This does not sit well with me.
This post is not meant to excuse the players for their performance. And this post does not suggest a replacement coach will turn this team into a playoff contender overnight. But there is little denying that Coach Westphal has failed miserably so far, with an upgraded roster, relative good health, an easy schedule, and little relief in sight. Time is running out. If the coach cannot produce wins, nor excitement, nor competitiveness, nor a feasible game plan, nor foster hope and optimism among players and fan base, he serves no use. He has not accomplished any of the above. We are sitting at an abyss as a team, as low as I can recall given expectations relative to performance since the Dick Motta Era. If the ascent from the depths of ineptitude to respectability does not begin immediately, Westphal will have plenty of time this holiday season to get his X-Mas shopping complete.
Update: The ascent began tonight. More effort and execution like we saw v. Mavs, and maybe Westphal survives the holidays. Win or lose, that is the kind of basketball Kings fans deserve, and should expect to see. Heartbreaking to lose, especially when you make 11 for 19 3PGs, but best performance of the year.