Posts Tagged ‘Paul Westphal’

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already


HANG TIME, Texas — It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies — Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets — After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats — He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Cousins’ Routine…Ba-Dump…Old Joke


HANG TIME, Texas — Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A priest, a rabbi and DeMarcus Cousins are sitting on a bench…

Yeah, it’s getting to be the kind of stale old joke that sounds like it came out of the Catskills in the 1950s.

Cousins is at the center of another flap. This time the Kings’ leading scorer and rebounder was left in the locker room at halftime Friday night following a verbal run-in with coach Keith Smart.

As a result, Cousins has been suspended indefinitely for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team,” according to Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie.

Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee delivers the details that were available:

“It was conduct detrimental to the team and we left it at that,” Smart said without elaborating.

Smart did not say if Cousins would play Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I’m going to focus on (Friday night),” Smart said. “And then I’ll move forward to the next day.”

Cousins said he “was in the wrong” during halftime.

“What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, but I was wrong,” Cousins said. “But what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.”

Cousins then was asked what he could do to avoid further situations where attention was on his actions off the court.

“Don’t talk back,” Cousins said. “That’s the thing. I shouldn’t have responded back. Should have accepted what was said and stayed quiet.”

Of course, nobody has ever questioned the raw talent and ability that Cousins possesses, only the maturity and professionalism that he doesn’t.

As a potential foundation-type player on the front line, it was understandable that Kings management sided with Cousins and gave Paul Westphal the ax when the two of them couldn’t get along.

There may also be legitimate reasons to question whether Smart (73-134 career record) has the right stuff to be a successful coach in the NBA. But the main reason he was brought in to replace Westphal and had his contract extended was because he could supposedly relate to Cousins and steer him correctly and now that plan seem to have jumped off the tracks.

Already this season, Cousins has been suspended two games for confronting Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott after a game, suspended another for whacking the Mavs’ O.J. Mayo in the groin and ejected in the third quarter of one more game for arguing calls by the refs. Now this.

More from Jones:

“We’re trying to set a standard for all of our players and all our guys who are here,” Smart said after the game. “When guys don’t fall in line to that we’ve got to move on.”

Smart intends to maintain this stance, too. You have to assume that means penalties will escalate if the behavior does not change.

Smart wouldn’t address whether Cousins would play in Sunday’s game against Portland. If he does, another blowup could mean suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team.

Cousins doesn’t believe Friday’s incident will be held over his head and that he and Smart can move past the incident.

“It happens all the time between players and coaches,” Cousins said. “I believe we’ll talk about it, get past it and we’ll move forward.”

Cousins can only hope. All of these shenanigans are overlooked if he were delivering like the punchline in the Kings’ lineup. But after a breakout season a year ago, Cousins has not only reverted to troublesome form with his behavior, but his play has deteriorated as well, not concentrating on defense and taking far too many bad shots.

Could Cousins simply be tiring of the losing atmosphere in Sacramento and trying to force the Kings to ship him out of town?

We can only assume that he knows the rest of the NBA gets LeaguePass. The offers coming in at this point for a mediocre malcontent would hardly make the Kings want to jump at this point.

So DeMarcus Cousins walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder…

You’d think at 22, he’d be too young to become an old joke.

The Other DeMarcus Cousins

HANG TIME WEST – This is why the Kings have steadfastly waved off serious trade talks. This is why they have refused to sell low to cut their losses. The last 4 ½ weeks are why.

DeMarcus Cousins is on a rebounding tear. He’s moved up to No. 5 in the league at 11.2 a game, despite playing fewer minutes than  anyone in the top 10. Cousins always has had the talent that projects him to be an All-Star center. In case there were any doubts, there were the 20 boards Saturday and the 14 two games before that and the 15 two games before that.

Cousins has posted at least 13 rebounds in six of the last nine games and has topped 15 boards in a game five times in January and the early days of February. Plus, he is at 15 points a game. Beneath the immaturity, through the inability to show up to camp in proper shape both years as a pro, this is what was always possible.

His recent tear is not, however, a chain reaction to Paul Westphal being fired on Jan. 5, four days after the Kings wrongly allowed the release of a Westphal e-mail statement that took Cousins to task. Cousins is many things. He is not (so far) a coach killer, though. Westphal got the gate primarily because his team was getting blown out on a regular basis. If being on the opposite side of Cousins’ flash temper was the standard for employment, half the organization would have pink slips.


The Kings Did The Right Thing


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Only time will tell if Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins will live up to his immense potential or if Keith Smart will indeed have staying power as a coach in the NBA.

We can close the book on one thing: the Kings (specifically co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloofs) made the right decision changing coaches — from Paul Westphal to Smart eight games ago. That change had to happen, and not just for Cousins but for an entire team in need of a change in mood and direction.

The Kings are 3-5 since Smart took over for Westphal — that’s not exactly playoff-ready and is a mark that probably doesn’t have the Western Conference elite worried about them. But the difference in this team’s confidence is evident. They’ve shown a resilience and cohesion that was simply absent under Westphal, battling back from huge deficits to win games (last night’s win over Indiana being the latest such effort) that could have easily been blowout losses added to their pile.

Blaming the former coach for all that went wrong would be more than a little shortsighted on our part, so we’ll stop right here and point out the shared responsibility of all involved (coaches, players, front office, etc.). Still, a team that looked like a complete dysfunctional mess just a few weeks ago is at least showing signs of life now.

Sometimes a different voice, a different approach, is what it takes to get through to a team. Take Smart’s approach to his power forward rotation, per the Sacramento Bee (courtesy of my main man Jason Jones):

“I’m trying to create an environment where the power forward position is a partnership where no one is being demoted or upgraded over the next player,” Smart said. “I want to be able to write down tonight I’m expecting 20 points and 10 rebounds from that group and they form a partnership.”


Is Jerry Sloan Itching To Return?

HANG TIME, TEXAS – Some things are just natural. Painters paint, writers write, singers sing, coaches coach.

Jerry Sloan is a coach.

So how much longer will be it before the 69-year-old Hall of Famer and former fixture with the Jazz is back on an NBA sideline?

According to Sam Amick of, maybe sooner than you think.

“I think if the right situation came along, whatever that is,” he said before pausing to ponder. “I don’t know what the right situation is. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.”

He’ll be waiting for the phone to ring again at his home in Utah, where he became the NBA’s third-most winningest coach of all time (1,221-803) before abruptly stepping down last February. After 23 seasons, the job became too taxing for the longest tenured coach in league history.

Back when he first walked away from the Jazz, Sloan wasn’t mentally and physically ready to jump right back in and set up camp on another sideline. But anyone who has ever spent time around him could hardly see Sloan permanently adopting the lifestyle of the gentleman farmer back on his spread in McLeansboro, Ill.

Kings’ Cousins Demands Trade

In a strange moment even by the standards of their relationship that has tested the limits of patience, the Kings announced Sunday that problem-child DeMarcus Cousins was suspended for that night’s game against the Hornets and that Cousins has “demanded” to be traded.

It is not known whether the second-year center was suspended without pay or told to stay away in the latest attempt to impose discipline on a prospect so lacking in structure. It is also not known for certain whether Cousins actually demanded, asked, hinted or used a Ouija board to ask for a trade – his agent, John Grieg, denied there was any such request, according to Sam Amick of, and said “Maybe Westphal is just feeling the heat early this season.”

Whatever the impetus of the latest breakdown, a lot of front offices around the league are knowingly nodding their heads. Cousins was the second-best talent in the 2010 draft, at worst, and maybe equal or ahead of No. 1 pick John Wall, but went fifth to Sacramento because of issues that ranged from attitude to inability to always play hard. Cousins had the talent to reach the All-Star game but the personality and approach to get some GM fired.

The Kings took the risk with the understanding a lot of patience would be required, then got exactly the rookie season and opening weeks to the second campaign that should have been expected: Cousins had some good moments that were countered by a level of immaturity that could make him one of the great underachievers.


Do-It-Yourself Scouting In Sac-town?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s no secret that the Kings need a new arena in order to remain in Sacramento for the long term.

But according to former first-round draft pick Antoine Wright, who has played for four different clubs in six seasons, what the Kings could also use to regain relevance in the Western Conference are scouting reports.

As part of a longer tale in which he acknowledges his own mistakes but seems to take responsibility for none of them, Wright tells Sam Amick of that during his brief stay in Sacramento last season that the team was shockingly unprepared stepping onto the court:

“My rift, really, with the organization was that I don’t think they prepared the guys enough to win basketball games,” Wright said. “We were probably the only team in the NBA that didn’t have a scouting report. How do you expect a young team to go out and carry a game plan? Every team I’ve been on, they give you a scouting report on every guy on the team, a couple paragraphs about each guy before you go out there and play against him.

“Coming on the court before the game was chaos – no structure whatsoever, and we kind of had a laid-back coach. [Paul] Westphal was pretty laid back, and with a group of young guys, you’ve got to have somebody who comes in and disciplines them.”

Wright wasn’t even close to done yet.

“I’m not going to throw any of their players under the bus, but one of the main players who was a big part of our team, his attitude was really, really bad — I’m pretty sure you can figure out who that guy is,” he said before confirming that he was speaking of then-rookie forward-center DeMarcus Cousins. “Tyreke [Evans] had a pretty good attitude. His work ethic wasn’t great, but he’s a good young player. I believed in him completely. I just don’t think the coaches did enough to prepare us to win games.”

The 6-foot-7 guard was taken by the Nets with the No. 15 pick in the 2005 Draft and never averaged more than his 7.3 points per game with Dallas in the 2008-09 season. He signed a one-year contract with the Kings last summer, but lasted only seven games with the team following an arrest for DUI and a blow-up with assistant coach Mario Elie. Then Wright finished last season playing for the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons in the Chinese Basketball Association.

You have to wonder how Wright thinks he’s helping his chances of re-making image and getting back into the NBA. But in a league that increasingly relies on analytics and detailed preparation, if what Wright says is true, maybe you can stop wondering how the Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and have just a 49-115 record over the past two seasons.

Note to future Kings: Subscribe to NBA League Pass and do your own scouting.

Casspi Wants Out Of Sacramento

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At least one member of the Sacramento Kings doesn’t want to relocate to Southern California.

At least not with the Kings.

Omri Casspi, a feel good story two years ago when he surprised us all during his rookie season, has grown disenchanted with his role with the Kings this season.

He wants out. And he didn’t mince his words either, explaining in a column he wrote for an Israeli sports website, ONE, that his situation has become unbearable:

“It’s not easy for me to sit on the bench, which has happened to me quite a bit in Sacramento’s last few games. I’m a player who lives the game and as soon as you take away the thing I love the most in the world – playing basketball, it is hard for me.

“The situation in Sacramento is not like it used to be in the past. Coach Paul Westphal is experimenting and trying different things and I’m certainly not in his plans. We have six more games until the end of the season, and although I won’t say that I’m counting the seconds, it is clear to me that I will have to make some decisions at the end of the year.”

Blogtable: Coaches on the hot seat

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Which NBA coach will be the first to go once the regular season ends? Care to weigh in on who should be the first to go?

Steve Aschburner: Detroit’s John Kuester, only because he works in the Eastern time zone and the Pistons might be asking him to clean out his office before his team leaves Philadelphia on April 13, whereas Golden State’s Keith Smart will be finishing up that night three hours later against Portland. Both of these fellows will get zapped because of ownership changes, on top of mostly miserable seasons. Who should get the gate? Sorry, can’t urge someone out of a job in this economy.

Fran Blinebury: Whether he’s been set up to fail by his veteran players or G.M. Joe Dumars or both, there seems little question that John Kuester has lost respect and control in Detroit.  Once that happens, there’s no going back.  The once-proud franchise has to get its ownership situation settled, turn the page and move on.  Now. (more…)

Cousins Living Up To The Hype

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’re doing our very best to resist the urge to jump to conclusions about Kings rookie center DeMarcus Cousins.

Really, we are trying to give the young fella the benefit of the doubt in his latest scrape. But he’s making it so tough. Instead of letting his solid play do all the talking for him, Cousins continues to live up to the pre-Draft hype that labeled him a monster talent with monster baggage.

After having running afoul of coach Paul Westphal‘s rules earlier this season, Cousins went off on teammate Donte Greene for not passing him the ball at the end of Friday night’s loss to Oklahoma City. Greene passed it to Tyreke Evans, who wound up missing a 3-pointer that could have won the game. Depending on what version of the story you believe, what transpired after the game was downright ridiculous.