Posted by: Kingsguru21 | August 21, 2011

Defending Paul Westphal

It’s always easy to say Westphal should be fired, or he’s dropped the ball since a certain point of time. It’s also easy to be critical of how he’s handled “certain” young players or the style of play he’s promoting at any given point.

This has been debated before long and hard by many. The only question is where you end up on the side of the debate.

I do find it interesting that no matter where you end up on this debate, it’s a layered argument. No matter how you slice this, this little piece and nugget won’t end up changing your mind. It’s pretty clear by this point that wherever you stand on Westphal, it’s such a polarizing place to end up and neither side has made much headway, or any headway truthfully, on the other so far. Is a 25 and 24 win season that big of a deal? No. But, is it worth firing Westphal over perceived slights? I’d say no. Of course I’m on the pro-PW side of the ledger at this point.

On the other hand, you have 2 other head coaches who have been hired (and fired) in the same relative time frame as Westphal. One, obviously, is Kurt Rambis. The other is John Kuester.

Kuester had a 27-55 record in 09-10 and a 30-52 record in 10-11 for an overall record of 57-107 in his 2 years with the Pistons.

With Kurt Rambis, you had a 15-67 record in 09-10 and a 17-65 record in 10-11 for an overall record of 32-132 with the Wolves.

Paul Westphal had a record of 25-57 of 09-10 and 24-58 in 10-11. Westphal’s overall record in 2 years is 49-115.

So is Westphal 8 games worse than Kuester, 17 games better than Rambis, or does these records mean anything? (I’d argue these records mean little other than the obvious: These 3 teams were not among the best teams in the NBA the last 2 seasons. Especially when you understand the context with each team.)

Rambis had a young roster as did Westphal. Kuester had an older with a few younger players mixed in. Westphal had a younger roster with some older vets mixed in.

I don’t know if Westphal’s detractors will ever be happy with him under any scenario. I’m pretty sure a fairly substantial segment of the Kings fanbase will groan about Tyreke Evans not being a pass-first PG (even though he was not that on draft day, 2 years later or ever). I’m fairly sure that DeMarcus Cousins will get a pass for being a limited athletically knucklehead because he does have the cerebral and/or passing skills so many seem to covet. Plus, there is always the “he’s ours so fuck off” element that will always be in play when discussing Cousins.

What I know is that Paul Westphal kept the Kings together and fairly competitive for the last 2 seasons despite what is sometimes said. The Wolves fell apart when Kevin Love was no longer in the lineup. At one point, the Kings & Wolves were neck to neck for wins. Then, for whatever reason, the Kings managed, from March 1st on, a 9-15 record. In that same time period, the Wolves went 3-18. It’s also not like the Kings didn’t lose a few winnable games down the stretch either (this was true of the Wolves too, but mostly they were being blown out). The Wolves lost their last 15 games; the Kings on the other hand were 8-7 in that same stretch. Don’t tell me the Wolves were having an arduous season that was more difficult than the Kings at that point. In that stretch, the Kings actually had 10 road games winning 6 of these games. Winning 6 out of 10 games on the road at or home is impressive for a 24 win team any way you slice it, but how many teams as young as the Kings have won as many games as they did on the road? I would suspect not many. I’ll also grant the point that it was probably easier for the Kings player to focus on the road without the “moving to Anaheim” situation hanging over their heads.

The fact that the Pistons had a revolt against Keuster says a lot right there. The Pistons franchise has a lot of problems themselves. The question at this point whether these problems can be resolved or not. And, I’m not the one to say one way or another when it comes to the Pistons. I’d just say that Paul Westphal has a hand in the Kings roster stability that had every sign of coming apart at the seams as late as the trade deadline in February.

But the charges of lineup consistency? Well, let’s start with Donte Greene and Omri Casspi and leave it at that. When I look at minute distributions, I don’t see how a player isn’t getting an opportunity. What I do see is inconsistency from both, and not taking advantage of extended opportunities both had to grab the starting job last season.

Is Paul Westphal the right coach moving forward? I don’t know honestly. There are two sides to the coin of the Westphal debate that make solid points consistently and honestly despite what is said. What I personally think is that the guy kept a young, and somewhat unstable (if for no reason other than Cousins), roster together through some trying times last season. The year before, the Kings were far more competitive on their way to a 25 win season. Tyreke Evans looked like a franchise player a times, and Omri Casspi certainly looked like a steal in the 1st round.

Then the reality came crashing down. Tyreke came into the 2010-11 season’s training camp out of shape, had health and/or mental issue’s all season long, and Omri had his own share of problems. I don’t even want to mention Donte Greene at this point. The list goes on depending on which PW camp you belong to.

What is known, right now anyway, is that Paul Westphal time as a head coach is probably as polarized as a political candidate. I’m not sure what to say to that other than to simply wonder why. What I know is that with an older, less holey roster, I have less tolerance to give PW a pass than I have in the past. If there is a full season, I expect a playoff team. I don’t think it’s unrealistic or unreasonable to expect a playoff team right now. Playoffs or bust in 2011-12*.

(* = Provided the owners & players don’t have their continued ongoing stupidity moment and head for a lost season.)

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


  1. Hi Nate. Outrider here, or Charles as I’m known to the rest of the world. I’m split in to two parts when it comes to PW. One part thinks PW is a good guy and seems to get consistent effort from the players. He seems to be a good manager of people/egos. The other side of me thinks he’s a marginal manager of assets and a mediocre x’s and o’s guy. I suppose I’d rather have it be that way than have him be a great x’s and o’s guy who is disliked by his players, with those players not putting forth the effort. What do you think of PW relative to the x’s and o’s part of the game?

    • Well, Charles, I guess it depends on how you look at it. Do you consider the managing of personalities or drawing up plays to be more important? Let’s be honest: We all consider them more important.

      But which has the greater impact? Well, if I have to pick one, I’d say that a guy who can communicate well with others has a head start over everything else. I don’t think Westphal is necessarily weak in X&O’s, but I do think when you put the ball in the hands of rookies and/or young players at the end of games, you’ll struggle in some respects.

      I like this Zach Harper piece he wrote after the loss to Dallas in early December.

      Another instance that comes to mind was Cousins inbounding on the final play against Atlanta on MLK day. That was a creative idea that didn’t work either because Cuz just messed the read up or Tyreke read it all wrong. I’m not sure which. Chemistry does take time to create, and it does not happen overnight. Yet despite that, Westphal continues to play Cousins and Evans in situations that, especially Cousins, most coaches even with limited and/or worse talents might not play them in that situation.

      Our identity is if we can get out in the open floor and get an early shot, a quick shot, off a miss or off a turnover, we want to do that. We want to push the ball up the floor, we want to swing it from side-to-side. If there’s a low post man, we want to throw him the ball and run splits. We want to swing the ball from side-to-side if there’s not a low post man. We want to give Tyreke chances to slice and cut into the post more or come off pick and rolls. We want to space the floor. We want to hit the first open man and then run our sets. We have basic things that we can run depending on the way that our players are positioned. We have different keys. We need to read each other and read those keys. If the defense takes away one thing, you go backdoor and try to go to the next option.”

      That makes me think a lot of things about the x&o’s end. 1) is that PW knows what he wants, but sometimes you have players who literally can’t do these things. Having players that can do what you want from them is a huge plus in the NBA. Having players who will do what the coach asks is a huge plus in the NBA. 2) It generally addresses what he wants as an overall plan. 3) No player was individually named other than Tyreke Evans, and, that tells me that PW thinks Tyreke is the best player. As such any offense is largely going to feature your best player doing whatever he does well.

      So, as to the x&o’s part? This is based on the previous 2 seasons and all the degree of difficulties involved, the answer is I don’t know. I know it seems long winded after 4 paragraphs in this comment, but that’s the only way I can explain it. Due to the young players, the incomplete roster, and all the other outside nonsense that went on, I’m not sure that x&o’s would be a way I’d want to judge any head coach. This year, if there is one of course, I’ll be judging PW on the x&o’s much more. That’s especially true if the Kings end up getting a player like Nene in Free Agency. How Nene and Salmons get used, especially when PW has been saying it would be nice to have players of that caliber, will be telling to me. Are they successful? Are they not? I think time will tell, but how this team works would be a strong suggestion one way or another how PW works with x&o’s.

      Like I said, sorry for the long comment. With the incompleteness and young talent on the roster, I don’t know how to judge any head coach based on a wickedly difficult curve that would help no-one if they were in the same situation. When I judge anyone, I want to judge them based on their strengths. As such, I don’t feel PW can be adequately judged and assessed based off these last 2 seasons. Sorry if it seems as a copout because, quite honestly, I’d like to know how I feel about PW’s strengths when it came to x&o’s. But I don’t and the situation of the last 2 seasons has a lot to do with that.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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