Tag: Paul Westphal

DeMarcus Cousins

This Kings offseason looks too much like last Kings offseason


One year ago right now, the biggest concern for Sacramento Kings fans was that the team’s owners — the Maloof family — were going to pack up and move the Kings as soon as they could. That issue overshadowed the on the court questions about the young core of the team and how they would mesh and play together. There were questions if the coach was the right man for the job. But it all came back to the Maloofs, money and relocation.

The summer of 2012 is going to feel a lot like the summer of 2011 in Sacramento.

Some things have changed — an arena plan came together then was blown up by the Maloofs, DeMarcus Cousins emerged as a cornerstone — but the core question remain the same.

Specifically, are the Kings staying in town?

Right now, in the absence of a new arena plan, the Maloofs are discussing upgrades to the existing Power Balance Arena. Something they themselves said could not work a year ago. Nobody thinks that is the end game for the Maloofs. It’s the latest plan to stall, to win the PR battle. While the Maloofs keep saying they are not filing for relocation, it’s hard to believe anything they say anymore. Not after a they pushed back on a deal they not only shook hands on but stood at center court and celebrated with Kings fans.

Over at Cowbell Kingdom Rob McAllister does great work going into the groundwork being laid by the family and the lawsuits that are likely coming in the fight over relocation. There is a fight coming to move this team, it is clear. A fight that will involve other NBA owners and the courts.

It’s too complex a problem to be simply summed up here, but when you look at the Maloofs actions and not their words it is pretty obvious what is coming. They will try to move the team.

That cloud hangs over everything. From the AP:

“This year, everybody wasn’t really on the same page,” said rookie Isaiah Thomas, one of the team’s few bright spots. “The lockout, new coach, arena talk, all things like that. It was tough.”

The new coach was Keith Smart, who took over for Paul Westphal when the Kings started 2-5 and he had run ins with DeMarcus Cousins. Westphal tried to make a stand, the franchise sided with the player.

Smart stepped in and changed things. First, he had a connection with the players that was lacking before. They played hard for him. They also played fast as he tried to get the Kings out and running — it was a better strategy that worked some nights, but it was  not a great one because the Kings just don’t have a lot of talent.

The brightest spot for the Kings on the court is that Cousins developed into a star, the guy the team can build around inside. He averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, he became the focal point of the halfcourt offense under Smart. Plus, Thomas developed into the point guard of the future, a guy who pushed the team in transition and maybe could make the All-Rookie team (problem is that point guard in Cleveland was pretty good, too).

But there are a lot of questions that remain. Like what to do with Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year whose game has stagnated, the Kings cannot seem to find a fit for him. Smart tried him at the three in his up-tempo offense, but that didn’t work. Evans shows up in a lot of trade rumors and the Kings will shop him around. They also would listen to offers for John Salmons or frankly anyone on the roster not named Cousins. There is a lot of work to do with this roster.

But how much can be spent to bring in players? It comes back to the owners — they have no goodwill in the community and that is going to hurt ticket sales, sponsorship sales and other revenue sources. The Maloofs will run the team on a shoestring because of that and… well, you can see the cycle.

I’m not sure how that cycle is going to end. There are a lot of questions out there about the Kings and what is next. But in the end it comes down to Maloffs, money and whether the other owners will vote to allow them to move the team.

Owner says Smart will return as Kings coach next season

Keith Smart, DeMarcus Cousins

Keith Smart has seemed to make a connection with the Kings players.

That has not translated to winning yet — since he took over and the team has gone 10-18. But you are seeing better energy and play out of DeMarcus Cousins, you are seeing better defense, you’re seeing a respectable team starting to form. Paul Westphal had lost the Kings, Smart has their attention.

So the Kings are going to keep Smart around. That’s what co-owner Joe Maloof told Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.

“Yes,” Maloof said emphatically when asked if Smart’s option would be picked up. “With no disrespect to our past coaches, we really have someone who everybody likes now. The players like him, the basketball staff likes him, we trust him, and he knows the game. Keith Smart is a wonderful coach, and we’re lucky to have him. … Yes, we’ll pick it up. We want him to be our coach forever.”

Smart deserves the break. He was hired to take over in Golden State right as an ownership change was taking place that forced Don Nelson out. He was in a no man’s land — he was the coach but not the choice of the new front office. He guided the Warriors to a 36-46 record – about exactly what should have been expected out of the roster he was given — then was fired to make way for Mark Jackson.

Then he’s an assistant in Sacramento who gets thrust into the head coaching job following players having tuned out the last coach and the franchise threatening to move. He’s done a good job and with the Kings looking like they are staying in Sacramento Smart deserves the chance to see what he can do with a full season. Looks like he’ll get it.

His new coach talks DeMarcus Cousins and maturity

Keith Smart, DeMarcus Cousins

Somewhere near the top of the list of things Keith Smart has to do that his predecessor as coach of the Sacramento Kings (Paul Westphal) couldn’t do is build a good relationship with DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins is immensely talented but with an ego to match. He’s not loved in his own locker room, other teams around the league are wary. The talent was never in question, but he fell to No. 5 in the draft because of those concerns.

Smart made an interesting point about Cousins and growing up to the National Post (via Sactown Royalty).

“He’s 21. What was I doing at 21? I was in college with a demanding coach,” said Sacramento coach Keith Smart, who took over for Westphal. Smart played for Bobby Knight at the University of Indiana. “A lot of things that happened at 21 for me got corrected while I was in college. He has to do this in front of all the media and all the world in front of a pressured environment.”

In the world of problems, Cousins is not that big of one — he clashes with coaches but he’s not out getting arrested or in serious off-the court trouble. He works hard on the court — only Kevin Love has grabbed more offensive rebounds than him this season, he is third best on the list of percentage of rebounds grabbed when he is on the floor (only Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum grab a higher percentage of missed shots). Of course, he also leads the league in personal fouls and is 15th in turnovers despite not being a guard.

Smart sees his job as having to help Cousins mature, as Knight helped him mature. Tall order. But if he can do it, the Kings could be set in the middle for a decade with one of the best bigs in the league.

DeMarcus Cousins is only responsible for being DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins Royals

We tend to treat NBA players as action figures. Fun to look at and watch do whatever actions they do, ultimately hollow, and easily classifiable.

“This one is a hero.”

“This one is a villain.”

The problem is that these are people. I’m not imploring you to be more considerate of their feelings; that’s a futile pursuit. But we should at least recognize the huge gap between people who share one characteristic and those that share multiple characteristics, and the fact that they are not all systemic. I’m talking about DeMarcus Cousins.

Paul Westphal was fired this week after a 2-5 start. Immediately, this became about DeMarcus Cousins. He was labeled as a coach killer. That this was about him. To do so ignores the fact that Tyreke Evans had said earlier in the week that the Kings literally did not know what offense they were running. That there was no cohesive strategy to the Kings’ approach to personnel deployment. That their defense was atrocious. That players had not only not developed under Westphal, but actually regressed. This isn’t to make Paul Westphal responsible for all the Kings’ problems. The guy who steered the Titanic into the iceberg didn’t put the iceberg in the water, didn’t build the ship, didn’t manage the evacuation procedures. But the Kings’ problems being pinned on DeMarus Cousins is like blaming one compartment that was flooded for the entire thing going down.

What’s worse it that there’s an immediate subtext to the conversation about Cousins. “He’s just one of those guys.” That’s code for “thug,” a phrase that’s been used for decades in the NBA and represents the worst of outside examination of the NBA from those who don’t pay attention. “You know what kind of guy he is.” This kind of approach seeks to attach characteristics to Cousins which are not representative of who Cousins has been.

Cousins hasn’t been arrested in the time he’s been playing organized ball at Kentucky or in the NBA. He hasn’t failed a drug test. He isn’t known to run with people of concern in the locker room. And yet people want to attach elements of the worst disappointments and character issues in the NBA to him. That’s not who Cousins is.

Just because you buck at any attempt by coaching to try and control you, to wrangle your play, that doesn’t mean that you have no respect for authority and are a loose cannon. Just because you don’t get along with teammates (and multiple people I’ve spoken  to as well as a dozen published reports indicate that Cousins is about as popular in the Kings’ locker room as a polka mix would be), that doesn’t mean that you are likely involved in criminal activity. And being known to get physical and berate officials on the floor doesn’t mean that you have an anger management issue off of it.

It just means you’re a jerk.

And by all accounts, Cousins is kind of a jerk. Much like 80% of 21-year-olds in the eyes of those older than 25. And Cousins may not grow out of it. There are certainly enough jerks in the world over the age of 25. He may not develop into a respectful young man, may never be able to control his problems with coaching and reach his potential. He may wind up involved in drugs or guns or violence. He may get arrested. But those issues aren’t tied to him yelling on the floor with his coach or teammates, or dogging it on the defensive end. His problems are the problems of DeMarcus Cousins, and don’t involve anyone else’s issues or context. His life is is his own.

DeMarcus Cousins is only responsible for the problems of being DeMarcus Cousins.

Keith Smart signs two-year deal to coach Kings

Keith Smart

Keith Smart had an impossible situation in Golden State when he became head coach. Not long after he was hired the team was sold to new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber whose mandate was to change the culture of a franchise that had been to the playoffs once in 17 years. Smart coached the Warriors to 36 wins — about what should be expected of the roster he was given — but he had no chance, he was swept up in the tide of change and washed out to sea.

Now, he’s taking over as head coach mid-season for a Sacramento squad where the team looks lost on the court, the old head coach feuded with the young star center, and the entire franchise is in danger of packing up and moving out of the city all together.

Yes, that’s much more stable.

But the Kings are at least giving him a chance, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo (via twitter).

Keith Smart has agreed to a two-year with the Sacramento Kings, source tells Y! Sports. His deal is guaranteed through 2012-’13 season.

He’s at least being given a chance. That’s all he can ask.

But he’s got a full plate to clean up after Paul Westphal. The Kings run a simplistic (read: easy to defend) offense that had little off the ball movement and relied on Tyreke Evans in the pick-and-roll and DeMarcus Cousins in the post. Smart needs to get the Kings and their young athletes out and running more, plus he needs to diversify and add some movement to the half court offense.

He has to get them to play much better defense.

And having a better relationship with Cousins wouldn’t hurt, either.