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Scott Howard-Cooper

Paul Westphal was 51-120 in two-plus seasons as the Sacramento Kings head coach.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

For Westphal, all signs pointed to an early exit

Posted Jan 6 2012 9:45AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Paul Westphal was fired as coach of the Kings on Thursday, and DeMarcus Cousins got a lot of the blame, or a lot of the credit for those in the anti-Westphal camp. This is understandable. It's just wrong.

Cousins gets an inordinate amount of attention as the No. 5 pick in 2010 so far unable to get out of his own way. He had just been told, on Sunday, to stay home rather than report to the game that night against the Hornets after asking (team version) or not asking (agent's version) for a trade. And when the Kings announced the banishment, word curiously, and wrongly, came from Westphal, not Geoff Petrie as head of basketball operations or Joe or Gavin Maloof as owners.

But Westphal did not lose a showdown to Cousins, no matter how many wrongly-spun this is as another example of players running the asylum. He lost games. A lot of them. By large amounts. Really large amounts.

Being an easy preseason pick for the lottery is one thing, but being embarrassed most nights is another. Wednesday's 110-83 loss at Denver was exactly the kind of game that gets coaches fired, especially when it's stacked on top of the rest of the wreckage before 2011-12 isn't even two weeks old, so there is no surprise in the announcement that came a day later that Westphal had been replaced by assistant Keith Smart, a former head coach in Golden State and Cleveland.

Late Wednesday, after the dunking Nuggets had laughed in the Kings' face, timing was the only block between Westphal and certain demise. The speed-dating training camp. It was early in the season and there were no title hopes dissolving. There had been the very encouraging start of beating and out-working the Lakers. A rookie, Jimmer Fredette, was getting a lot of time. Chuck Hayes likewise had an important role as a newcomer, with the additional burden of little preseason work. Cousins was behaving Cousins-like, showing to camp in less than preferred condition and still working on that whole maturity thing.

Working against Westphal:

Trail Blazers 101, Kings 79 on Dec. 27.

Bulls 108, Kings 98 on Dec. 29.

Knicks 114, Kings 92 on Saturday.

Grizzlies 113, Kings 96 on Tuesday.

Nuggets 110, Kings 83 on Wednesday.

In a season when the team needed to look good to build on the emotions around town late last season to find a way to build an arena and stay in Sacramento, in a season when the team needed to look good just because there has been enough not looking good in recent years, the six losses were by an average of 19.6 points. The lone victory in that stretch was Sunday against the Hornets, the game Cousins missed. The closest loss was by 10. The Knicks, underwhelming most every other night, won by 22 at Power Balance Pavilion.

"I think we all knew something had to be done," Joe Maloof told David Aldridge of and TNT. "We know we have a lot of (young) players but we were expecting to do well this season. We have a couple of guys who are in their third year in the league. We still have 60 games. We still have a shot.... Geoff came to us and said it probably was never going to work between those two guys. It was probably best to move on. (But) none of the guys were playing up to their potential. It didn't make sense, our play on the court. It just didn't make sense."

Cousins is a lot of things, just not a coach killer (probably should toss in "yet"). The same thing would have happened if center and coach were best buds and the Kings were getting rolled. The same thing would have happened if Westphal and Cousins were starting back-to-back in the locker room every night and counting off 40 paces while the Kings won four of those five.

The Westphal-Cousins dynamic was "part of the decision," Maloof said, but hardly the overriding issue. Which is fair. The development, or lack thereof, of Cousins is huge for the future and management has a right to expect progress. But Cousins has not gotten along with a lot of people besides the head coach. The same front office knows this.

"It was probably time," Maloof said. "Paul's a class act, just tremendous. But it just wasn't working out. We thought it was best to make a change and give Keith a chance."

Smart is expected to finish the season as coach, while the rest of the organization sorts around for the next fresh answer and watches Cousins blossom into an All-Star and fine citizen now that Westphal has stopped causing all the problems. It's a new day, all right. It just looks a lot like the other ones.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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