Posted by: natehughart | September 23, 2009

Does Gray Hair make you calmer? (A Paul Westphal observation/analysis)

I’ve been trying to write something about Paul Westphal for at least 5 days now. I’m not really sure why, or why it matters period, really, but here we are anyway. 5 days later: I got sumthin’ as the sayin’ may go.

******

For those who are unaware, I happen to be an A’s fan. Not a good one by any stretch; I haven’t checked to see if the A’s got shell-lacked by Texas again. That’s okay; shit happens. It’s baseball. I enjoy the rhythm of the games themselves (although listening to Ray Fosse is the absolute equivalent of scratching nails on a chalkboard), but that’s usually about it. For me, I don’t get swept up in a random baseball game the way I do a random basketball game.

Since I’ve been on vacation in the EC for the last month (or close to it), I’ve gotten a chance to think about Sacramento in a context I have never thought about it in the past: as a visitor. I don’t live here, and I’ve remarked several times that when I get “home” I would do this or that. In a nutshell, home is where you want to be. (Or, where they have to take you in. In that case, home is a multiple personality. I digress.)

I suppose the point is that part of comfort is understand your surroundings, your comfort level, and ultimately the choice of what direction you wish for your life to go.

******

When I watch any Paul Westphal interview off Kingsflix (like the one I linked to yesterday), I get the feeling that the man is at complete ease. Like, he knows the deal. He knows what he’s in for.

Say whatever you want about that, but it is what it is. To quote something from a Spenser novel: “Paul Westphal is a wised up broad. He’s been there and seen it done.” Now obviously, he’s not a woman. I’m not implying that, but the point, nonetheless, I think is being made. Anything that comes Westphal’s way will be something he’s comfortable handling. He wants back in. He feels excited.

For instance, Westphal’s reaction to the current workout’s is pretty interesting from where I stand. He was neither happy, mad, sad, elated, or anything more than an observer. When a NBA coach says he’s simply an observer at voluntary workout’s, I find that interesting. Moreover, I find it truly refreshing. I may be a sucker for honesty, but, umm, yeah I just am.

(I will note that in response to Amicks’ point from his article today in The Bee about coaches not being able to be involved is something that didn’t matter to Westphal, either, when he responded to Andrew Nicholson in the video.)

Let’s be real folks: You don’t plop good money to see Paul Westphal coach. Yet, as any real fan knows, the head coach means so much in many ways. Still, nobody is going to fork over meaningful money (the economy has nothing to do with it) to watch a head coach, umm, coach. Westphal knows it. Whether or not he’s able to have the talent he had in Phoenix or even Seattle is one thing. He doesn’t seem to be greatly concerned about the roster or what’s wrong with it. (At least not at this stage in interviews that are put on Youtube through one of the Kings Websites, anyway.)

Why would that be the case? Because, as Westphal already knows, every roster is flawed. The 72-10 Bulls in 96-96 had flaws beyond what would happen if you didn’t play Michael Jordan 40 mins a night. What are they? Good question. (I’m still shocked the Bulls lost 10 games that year.) The flaws would be minor, and that team, if they’re not the best team in history, they certainly rank right up there with whomever is the best in that category.

I would like to remind everyone here that Westphal, like Adelman, has coached a 60 game winner. He knows what it takes to get a NBA Finals. He knows it as a player AND as a coach. He knows the deal, and he isn’t pretending at the moment. He seems, as corny as a statement as this is, very ease at himself and with the world. (I know, that’s not how you would normally describe a head coach.)

One of the irritating aftermath’s of Reggie Theus, and Eric Musselman, was that you very much feel like both guy’s personalities is completely phony. Like, the coaching thing is a mask for something else. I don’t know, as Theus has mentioned, whether the coaching bug is something truly in Theus. I don’t frankly care; as a head coach for the Kings he didn’t work out. It was time to move on. I find it telling that Reggie Theus is back on a NBA staff, and Eric Musselman (who had been on several staffs and had been a head coach at Golden State previously) hasn’t had a NBA job since. Now, I can understand why Muss hasn’t taken another job. He’s got 1.5 million coming to him for doing absolutely nothing, and if you can think of a sweeter gig than that, it’s probably because more money is involved.

At any rate, the way Musselman and Theus went about their business and had sent pretty early red flag’s by the time training camp had opened. (In Musselman’s case, I think it was absolutely the case of not hiring a more experienced lead assistant.) In Theus’s case, I think it was ignoring the reasoning behind not hiring a lead assistant.

Yet, that’s exactly what Westphal has in Jim Eyen and Mario Elie. EXPERIENCE! I’m not going to lie to you and say unequivocally that inexperienced coaches at the NBA level can’t succeed. At one point Phil Jackson hadn’t coached in the NBA. Part of the deal in a head coach’s success is a team taking a chance that that coach will do a good job for the team. That was the risk the Kings took with Theus; that’s absolutely the difference between Theus and Westphal. Westphal has been around the block a few times (or at least 6) to know the deal.

Making a NBA Finals? Check. Having problems with a franchise superstar? Check. Finding ways to increase PT for players who didn’t hit high on the team’s initial radar? Check. Putting quality talent on the bench to ensure that all bases are covered? Check.

Say whatever you want about Westphal, but there are multiple dimensions to his hiring that make sense on a basketball level. He knew, hell he probably realized that the Kings were his last real chance to stick as a NBA head coach. He knew he would have to take the money the Maloof’s were offering. (Say whatever you want about that, but a million & half is a damn sight more than what a lot of people are making these days.)

Now, I realize much of this is obvious, discussed about, or simply something that has been discussed in depth at previous times by many people. But, what isn’t being discussed about Westphal is how relaxed he is about this whole deal.

While it’s clear that Westphal is eager, it’s also clear that he’s tempering expectation. He wants it be known that hard work matters. For whatever reason, the franchise seems smooth in it’s direction right now. Paul Westphal is the biggest guage of such smoothness if you’re asking me.

I’ll do my best to relay this accurately. In the recent clip of Westphal talking about the voluntary workout’s, he’s asked a question by Nicholson and actually takes a good 10 seconds before answering. He initially says something, and then closes his mouth. Then, a measured response comes out after the initial delay. It seemed to me a man who knows what he is, where he’s at, and what he wants.

Paul Westphal isn’t stupid. He knows his legacy in Sacramento is about wins and losses, the perception that he could get players to play hard for him, and the ability to put in a cohesive, effective offensive and defensive schematic that could help change what has seemed like a rudderless and ineffective ship. He knows that, and because he knows that, he seems to believe that the extra exposure is what it is. He doesn’t seem angered by the extra attention in September; he isn’t shy about saying what he wants.

In essence, and this is a great irony if you ask me, that when you throw money at a problem, it does pose a potential solution. But, like anything, the kind of money you throw at something and the purposes that you throw it at a potential solution is something different entirely. Westphal is well aware is that his rep has been as an offensive coach. But, other than Gary Payton, what elite defensive player has played for Westphal?

It’s very hard to make a team defensively oriented if you have players whose greatest worth is offensively. There are 2 ends to basketball, and, at the end of the day, the name of the game is still scoring more points than the other side. How a team gets there is open to interpretation, and the strengths of the personnel a given team has.

If you have a 3 point threat like Peja Stojakovic, and while he may have had low post game, you still want him taking a high number of 3′s. It took me many years to understand that, and partly it was because I believed Peja never fully scratched that level of talent. (Partly, I was right. He did have that game; he just never was able to push his game over the top for whatever reason. I think his injuries were one reason,m though, if pressed.) Yet, a player like Ron Artest whose ability to score in the low post, and hit from the perimeter at a decent to good rate is far more difficult to coach. Balancing what Artest does best with his negative tendencies tends to be sacrificing something for other players. If other players don’t buy in (these guys are all professionals; to say they don’t want to be the best player and get 40 mins a night each is an understatement) than it becomes practically impossible for a coach to maximize talents of the best player on the roster.

When Ron Artest was on the Kings, he simply didn’t do enough to make the Kings a contender. Partly that was because of the other talent around him, but partly that was because he wasn’t as crucial to the team making that step as the franchise originally thought.

Which brings me back to Westphal, finally, and where he fits in. All summer long, you’ve heard that the Kings didn’t do enough in Free Agency. They didn’t make trades happen with their cap space they didn’t have. They didn’t do this, that, or the other.

A great example is the expectation of fans that the Kings need to go hard after more size to bolster the front line. Well, let’s see here for a moment.

Who were the best big’s on the market? How about Rasheed Wallace? He signed the MLE in Boston. I don’t think the Kings are championship contenders. (I’m not sure how many fans would have supported signing Sheed to the MLE, either.)

Antonio McDyess? He signed with San Antonio for the MLE. Not for as much money as Wallace, but, still, for more money than the Kings would have likely wanted to commit.

Brandon Bass? He signed for the MLE with Orlando. While he got more years than McDyess, he got less money per as a result.

Notice a trend here? Boston, San Antonio and Orlando are contenders. They also used their MLE to sign players, and the notable players they do have are already superstars/all-star caliber players.

It’s very hard to impact Free Agents without that player like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett. You need a player of that caliber to entice players into coming in the fold. That isn’t my opinion; it’s the reality of what a NBA players expectation is when a player is of the caliber of a Wallace, McDyess or Bass.

The Kings were never in play for guys like that. Even Marcin Gortat probably never even considered the Kings at any point. (It wouldn’t have mattered because Orlando matched the offer sheet Dallas signed Gortat to.) Because of signings such as these, it has greatly impacted how fans have viewed the summer for the Kings. Too many were expecting action when it was never reasonable.

I think there are 3 major reason’s for this. The first is pretty obvious. the Maloof’s don’t want to spend unnecessary money right now. The second should be simple too: Geoff Petrie doesn’t want to tie up any salary flexibility by signing a player (Brandon Bass probably qualifies here) who probably isn’t the best fit given the Kings players on the roster. (For the record, I think Orlando made a terrific move by picking up Bass. Since Orlando is my 2nd favorite team, I consider that a good thing. Now, the re-signing of Gortat is a different story, and I’ve said as much many times.)

The 3rd though is something that I think is being missed: Paul Westphal isn’t pushing for a drastic roster overhaul. He gets that this roster is probably the one he’s going to have to work with. Whether or not that resonates with the average fan (it doesn’t), it means something tangible to the franchise both in terms of dollars and flexibility. Plus, it also suggests that Westphal and Petrie have a working relationship. Any successful working relationship, as anybody who has had a job knows, is built off trust. I get the sense, partly because Amick isn’t stressing any great divisions right now are part of Kings management, but partly because Westphal also clearly had a hand in drafting Evans, Casspi and Brockman, that Westphal and Petrie are on the same page.

Say whatever you want about the previous 3 seasons, but that was not the case. If you’re a Rick Adelman fan, felt the Kings shouldn’t have let him go that way (guilty on both counts), than I feel you should also be satisfied that if Westphal isn’t as good a coach as Rick Adelman, he definitely understands the psychological realm of the job. No headline statements, no eyebrow raising coaching hires (unless hiring Truck Robinson qualifies), nothing egregious said (unless comparing Tyreke Evans to Michael Ray Richardson qualifies; I argue it does), and nothing to really remember.

A head coach that is committed to winning, letting the players be the show, and is comfortable both with his personal/working circumstances along with having a reasonable and high quality working relationship with his bosses speaks of stability.

It’s been way too long since I’ve said that. I’m afraid to even use the word honestly, but I just feel that way. Stability, at least in terms of personality, is something the Kings worked very hard to achieve this summer.

Gotta hand it to them: They passed that test with flying colors. (In terms of not operating in a dysfunction manner.)

Now if only the next tests passes so well. But, I suppose that’s why they play the season, yeah? If you ask me though, given the recent challenges and difficulties, just having a stable and reasonable summer, even if it pissed fans off, is one hell of a way to start off a good year.

I might be alone, and that’s fine too, but I feel good about this season. Even if the Kings lose 60 games, I feel good about this team. It has been way too long since I could say that. It’s an unusual feeling I admit, but it’s an exciting one too.

At the end of the day, though, I felt this way last season as well. The difference, though, is that Paul Westphal is on board with this roster, and Reggie Theus never was. Right now, if anything, I think that the gears not being jammed up is a sign of healthy movement towards positive success.

It’s about goddamn time.


Responses

  1. Another strong piece Pook. You are building a deep body of work here at ECI. As a fellow graybeard, like Westphal I always root for the old guy.

    As you know, I was not in favor of the Westphal hiring and at the time felt he was an uninspired choice. But over the summer I have reflected on the positives he brings to the team and have reached roughly the same conclusion that you have; which is that he is exactly the type of coach this young team needs.

    His lack of dynamism or another way of looking at it, his grounded personality and personal integrity plus his experience will in the long run get more out of the kids than Reggie’s star facade or Kenny Natt’s screaming desperation. If Donté is ever going to realize his potential, a knowledgeable, patient coach like Westphal is exactly what he needs.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that what the players need most of all is consistency, both in knowing their role, coach’s expectations, offensive and defensive plans and their role within them.

    I’m sure that Coach Westphal wanted badly to land another head coaching gig. However, I don’t think he will stake his personal integrity, his character, his self concept of himself as a man to squeeze out a few more wins or to garner a few more headlines. I’m confident he won’t throw a player under the bus to make himself look better.

    If, in two years the FO chooses to go in another direction but Westphal feels like he did the best job he could given the constraints of the roster and of the economy, I have no doubt he can walk away with his head held high.

    I also have no doubt that when the majority of these players careers are over, that they will look back at this point in time and honestly say that Westphal was one of their favorite coaches and that he helped them to become better players.

    Now enough about Westphal. Where have you been bro? How come you are no longer posting comments over at StR? We, (or at least I) miss you over there.

  2. Thank You BJ. As far as not commenting at StR, it was something I had to do sooner or later. Unfortunately, there was a double standard being applied to me that wasn’t to other people, and that isn’t fair to anyone. It’s best for a number of a reason’s that I no longer comment there. (I am not banned as of writing this.) I can comment; I just won’t any longer.

    To the rest of your comment (a 5 star comment if I may so): I agree with your lack of “dynamism” on Westphal. It was exactly the same problem that Adelman had. He never greatly appealed to the fanbase because his personality didn’t galvanize them. In other words, he wasn’t Phil Jackson and didn’t win titles.

    Of course, a lot of people are too stupid to even think about it that way. (Or, at least as far as I can tell, anyway.)

    I agree with regards to how he views this roster and the talent. This isn’t about him really; it’s mostly about how the players develop. A good coaching job done by Westphal is one that will allow him to keep a coaching job in the NBA. That’s the motivation here if anything that I can see.

    I’m not even going to worry about 2 years from now. Getting through this year may take all the steel you have from your many years already on Earth BJ.

    One piece of advice I have that may or may not mean anything: Taking pleasure in the little things. It’s all there is. With this team, it’s about the future and seeing players develop.

  3. [...] may be friends with Rush Limbaugh (never a plus), but basketball wise he’s honest and savvy. As I mentioned a few days ago, he’s smart enough to see what this roster is, what it isn’t, and what’s the best [...]

  4. [...] of the season review Part 2: The Coaching Staff Coming in, these were my expectations of Paul [...]


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