Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

May 15, 2009
Kevin Johnson, Mark Cuban, and Charles Barkley back Westphal for Kings

The Kings coaching search is back in neutral, mostly because basketball president Geoff Petrie is back in Spain until Tuesday's draft lottery day but also because there is much to deliberate.

Ailene Voisin summed it up well in this post, and the undecided options remain as such...

a) Offer Eddie Jordan the job (which obviously hasn't happened)

b) Wait and see how the Philadelphia situation plays out with Jordan, who interviews Friday. He is reportedly more interested in the Sixers job and has yet to find anyone who doesn't understand why.

c) Offer Westphal the job (which obviously hasn't happened)

d) Wait until the Tuesday draft lottery to see if - depending on whether Kings get first, second, third, or fourth pick - the job might become more attractive to other candidates, then bring more coaches in. (Or, of course, just bring more coaches in for the sake of bringing more coaches in)

The Kings may not even know which option they're taking yet, but it's safe to say that Westphal has a very legitimate shot. The combination of his his interview, the complex two-team tango surrounding Jordan and the understanding that he would be willing to take a more moderate salary than Jordan means the former Phoenix and Seattle coach is in the running. And if it was up to some of his A-list friends, he'll get it.

In reporting for Friday's follow-up story on Westphal and his long career, I sought out three of his most famous friends to learn more about him. First was Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento mayor who spent three-plus seasons as Westphal's point guard in Phoenix. Then it was Mark Cuban, the Dallas owner who had Westphal as his executive vice president of basketball operations last season and as an assistant under then-head coach Avery Johnson the year prior. Last but far from least was Charles Barkley, who was obviously part of Westphal's Suns team as well.

Between the three of them, there was much to learn about Westphal that could become relevant down the road. And considering most of the material didn't make the story, take some time to give it a look...


"Paul had a huge impact (on their successful Suns era). He was a former Phoenix Sun player. He was beloved as a player. He returned as an assistant right after the drug scandal, that was my first year there, when I got traded from Cleveland to Phoenix.
He was an assistant coach under Cotton Fitzsimmons for a couple of years. He was a great assistant coach."

On his general opinion of Westphal as a coach...

"He knew the game. He's a coach who has a lot of trick plays. He has a high basketball IQ, and there was a succession plan that when Cotton (Fitzsimmons) got old enough and felt that he wanted to retire, Paul Westphal was next in line. We did great things under Cotton Fitzsimmons, but once Paul became the head coach, we were able to ramp it up and take it to another level. He's a player's coach who certainly knows his strengths and weaknesses and he was a tremendous asset to the Phoenix Suns organization. He was very fun to play for and I think the fans enjoyed him as a coach as well."

On the fallout in Seattle at the end of Westphal's time there that raised the question of whether he could handle a locker room with strong-willed veterans (not that it's a concern for the Kings at the moment)...

"He coached us (in Phoenix), and there were a lot of veteran players on our team. If you get the right veteran players and the right environment, Paul did a very effective job there. Secondly, Paul is a very good coach for young people. If young kids are hard working and motivated, they will thrive under Paul. He's a very good teacher of the game. I think what happened in Seattle, that was just the wrong fit for that personnel and the organization at the time.

Johnson's general wrap-up thoughts...

"He and I had a very good relationship. He was certainly one of my favorite coaches. He was one of my top coaches playing for, and I was very good friends with his wife and his family. When I read that he had the possibility of getting a head coaching job in Sacramento, all I can say is I'm rooting for him. He'd be a good asset for the community. I don't know all the particulars in terms of how the Maloofs and Geoff are looking at it, but he's certainly a top candidate for consideration."


This segment is all about quality over quantity. A while back, I was told that Cuban strongly considered Westphal for Dallas' head coaching job last summer before the job went to Rick Carlisle. He confirmed that story in a second e-mail while singing Westphal's praises in the first...

1st e-mail: "I love Westie. Great basketball mind. Does a good job interacting with players. He really was a pleasure to have around."

2nd e-mail, which included the question about Dallas' head coaching job: "Yes (that's true), but he wasn't sure if he wanted to get back into it then. I guess he does now and I think he would be great for the Kings."


On a rare off-night from his TNT duties, the Chuckster called late after spending the day on the links in Alabama. The last time I'd called Barkley was two summers ago to ask about Scott Brooks, his former teammate who was in the running for the Kings job before it went to Reggie Theus. At the time, Barkley had a great line about the Kings head coaching job that I don't think I ever used in the paper (who knows why).

"Yeah, Scotty will be a good head coach, but who wants that job?" he began. "That's like being captain of the Titanic."

Sure enough, he was right. The ship sunk, and now the reclamation project has begun. And for Barkley's money, Westphal should be the one to help bring the Kings back up.

Barkley's opening thoughts on Westphal as a coach...

"I've just got great admiration for him as a person and as a coach. I'm not just saying that because he's a friend of mine. He's a hell of a coach. But as far as a person, you're not going to find a better person."

On how much credit he deserved for the Suns' success from 1992 to 1995...

"I think it was important that he gave us stability. You know, you hear people talking about how (Orlando coach) Stan Van Gundy is panicking. People talk about the arrogance of (Lakers coach) Phil Jackson. They talk about (Denver coach) George Karl - who's a great coach like all of them - but the volatility. But the one thing you can count on with Paul Westphal is he's going to be consistent all the time. It really helped us as a team."

On whether he still sees the Kings as a sinking ship...

"I think they're better. I do. And you just want to be patient. They're not close, but you're going to have to be patient. And if you need patience, that's a plus for Paul Westphal, somebody who has the patience to be in that situation."

On the fact that he inherited veteran teams in Phoenix and Seattle and the question of whether he would be effective in developing young players...

"I think he's perfect to teach. The only problem, as I told him, the only negative, is if you've got any guys who are not good guys. He's not a confrontational guy. That's the only negative, if it is a negative. He's not going to fight with his players all the time. He wants to teach players. That's a plus."

On the Seattle situation (read Friday's story for context)...

"That was a bad situation, because (Vin Baker and Gary Payton) were going to do it their way and they didn't give a (expletive)....I hope my boy (Westphal) gets it (the job)."

As a final thought, I was told that Westphal reached out to the Maloofs quite some time ago to make sure they knew he would be interested in the job. But their first in-person meeting was in the interview, meaning this is hardly the owners bringing in a coach who doubles as an old friend like John Whisenant or - to a lesser degree - Reggie Theus.

Meanwhile, Petrie is believed to have been intrigued by Westphal's career and coaching chops for some time, but he enters this process with no relationship with him beyond their few encounters as fellow NBA players so long ago. That's a stark contrast to his longstanding relationship with Jordan, of course, with no sign yet as to how this all plays out. - Sam Amick

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