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Art Garcia

Kings president Geoff Petrie (left) and new coach Paul Westphal (right) aren't rebuilding with a quick fix.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Westphal preaches patience as Kings begin long climb back

By Art Garcia,
Posted Sep 9 2009 9:47AM

Paul Westphal sees an empty canvas. Sure, the Kings hit rock bottom last season, limping home with the worst record in the Western Conference, let alone franchise history, and firing their coach along the way. But the fourth Sacramento coach in less than four years is undeterred.

He did, after all, take the job.

"It's a clean slate," Westphal told "It's very exciting for me. I think the commitment the Maloofs have and the job Geoff Petrie has done -- everybody wants to build this thing the right way. There are some good pieces to build with and there's an organization-wide desire to do it right."

Westphal returned to the sidelines after a year as a California-based executive for the Mavericks reenergized and enthusiastic about the prospect of turning the Kings back into a winner. Sacramento has missed the Playoffs the last three years after an eight-year postseason run. The 17-65 record last season was easily the franchise's poorest showing, going back to its inception as the Rochester Royals in 1948.

Reversing Fortunes's experts review the teams that didn't make the Playoffs last season and what they'll need to do to avoid the Lottery next season.
Date Team
Aug. 23 New Jersey Nets
Aug. 24 Toronto Raptors
Aug. 25 Oklahoma City Thunder
Aug. 26 Phoenix Suns
Aug. 27 Charlotte Bobcats
Aug. 28 Minnesota Timberwolves
Aug. 31 Memphis Grizzlies
Sept. 1 Washington Wizards
Sept. 2 Sacramento Kings
Sept. 3 Golden State Warriors
Sept. 4 New York Knicks
Sept. 7 L.A. Clippers
Sept. 8 Indiana Pacers
Sept. 9 Milwaukee Bucks

The task at hand is an opportunity to build without making compromises, Westphal said. The team's young players are hardly established commodities. Only one of the holdovers -- Kevin Martin -- can be considered All-Star caliber, and he's battled injury problems the last couple of seasons.

"There are guys on this team that are proven NBA players," countered Westphal, at the helm of his third NBA team. "If you can get the blend right and let them play to their strengths and they complement each other well, I think we might surprise some people sooner rather than later."

Surprising some people is going to take significant improvement in several key phases of the game. Sacramento was last in defensive shooting percentage, both overall and on 3-pointers, and among the worst rebounding teams in the league.

"We better improve in those areas," Westphal said. "I don't believe in showing defensive improvement through slowing the pace down and therefore you hold the other team to fewer points. We can't play a pace that's inconsistent with making this team the best it can be offensively, better defensively and on the boards."

The Kings' offseason additions centered on the Draft, with a pair of first rounders being counted on to contribute as the franchise moves forward. Tyreke Evans (No. 4) and Omri Casspi (No. 23) head to Sacramento at a time when playing time is abundant and wins may be scarce. Oft-injured Sean May is the only notable signing to date.

"It's been a solid summer," Westphal said. "Our biggest improvements have to come from developing our young players. Guys we already have, like Spence Hawes and Jason Thompson, are good players that figure to get better. We just didn't go out and try to buy a bunch of free agents or make trades for the sake of making a big splash."

Evans is the point guard of the future ... or the present if you listen to Gavin Maloof. The high-energy rookie out of Memphis lit up the NBA Summer League, earning praise from Westphal and his staff. Evans will head into training camp battling for a starting spot with incumbent Beno Udrih.

"He was terrific," Westphal said of Evans. "He has a few things he can work on and he knows that, and he will get better in some areas. But he'll bring a strength and versatility to the game, and he has a work ethic I'm very impressed with."

Casspi doesn't appear as NBA-ready as Evans, despite a solid career overseas with Maccabi Tel Aviv and a fiery disposition. The first Israeli ever drafted in the first round joins a swingman rotation that includes the team's three leading scorers -- Martin, Francisco Garcia and Andres Nocioni. Casspi, 21, is doing his best to get a head start by skipping national team play this summer for workouts in Sacramento.

May is more of a reclamation project. The former lottery pick wasn't able to stay on the court in Charlotte, but the Kings are counting on the beefy power forward to shore up their thin frontline. At 6-foot-9 and 265 pounds, May at least looks the part.

Playing the part is another story. May has only seen action in 82 games -- the equivalent of one season -- since entering the league in 2005. Microfracture surgery kept him sidelined for the entire 2007-08 season. May insists he's healthy and ready to prove the doubters wrong.

"A lot of people in my position have folded and I refuse to do that," he said. "Sitting out was tough emotionally. It took a lot out of me. It was the first time I had struggled."

It wasn't that long ago that the Kings were a Western Conference powerhouse contending for a spot in the Finals. The barn better known as Arco Arena was a madhouse, giving Sacramento one of the NBA's truly intimating homecourt venues. Westphal hasn't forgotten.

"We're trying to do it right," he said. "We're trying not to mortgage our future for a quick fix. Obviously, the teams we have to beat are loaded. We just want to build something that lasts."

If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.

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