Has Westphal lost control of the Kings?

During the post-game press conference following his team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, Sacramento Kings Coach Paul Westphal looked dazed.

311_Omri Casspi against the Cavaliers (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Omri Casspi against the Cavaliers
(photo credit: Associated Press)
During the post-game press conference following his team’s loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night, Sacramento Kings Coach Paul Westphal looked dazed.
He looked tired as he tried to explain the meltdown to reporters. He looked shell-shocked as he attempted to make sense of his team’s inability to close out games in the fourth quarter.
The loss to the Warriors was particularly bad, as the Kings held a 92-76 lead before committing 10 turnovers in the fourth quarter – more than they had in the first three combined – allowing Golden State to crawl back into the contest.
This was the same Golden State team that had lost 14 of 16 games and had only won three road games all season. It was the same Golden State team that came in tired after playing the night before.
Even after the lead evaporated to five points with under a minute remaining, the game should have been sealed. Westphal looked defeated as he explained that “999 times out of 1,000” the game is over at that point – that this was that, “one time.”
After the referees went over to the scorer’s table to review a call, Westphal motioned his players over, smartly seeing the delay in action as an opportunity to draw up a play.
While the Warriors immediately went over to coach Keith Smart, a few Kings players straggled over to Westphal. He motioned again and a couple more came off the bench, until they were all gathered around him. The scene was telling.
With two seconds remaining and a three-point lead, the Kings defenders all ran to cover Golden State players under the basket, seemingly forgetting that only a three-point shot could hurt them. Vladimir Radmonavic was left open at the top of the key, where he hit a 27-foot three-pointer to beat the buzzer and send the game to overtime.
The Warriors outscored the Kings 15-7 in the extra period to seal the victory and send Sacramento to the locker room searching for answers, following yet another loss.
Asked about morale in the locker room following the game, Westphal responded, “There’s a line in this league when you think you can’t get any lower, it gets lower.
“As much as it hurts, we have to bounce back.”
The question is, will Westphal have the chance to help the team bounce back? One season after being nominated for Coach of the Year honors for leading an inexperienced, injured Kings team to 25 victories when they had been projected to win 10 games, the Kings have fallen to a leagueworst 5-21 record.
They have lost six in a row, seven of eight home games, 14 of 15 games overall…the list goes on.
Simply stated, the Sacramento Kings are a bad team and they appear to be getting worse.
Back in the locker room after the fateful press conference, the team looked deflated. This was more than just a loss, more than just a series of losses when the team had a chance to win. This was a team that had learned firsthand that losing can become an epidemic.
Forward Carl Landry said, “It’s the same thing that has been happening, we can’t finish the game.”
When asked about some of the specific issues plaguing the team, Omri Casspi told the Jerusalem Post, “I’ll tell you one thing, we aren’t winning right now. That is the bottom line.”
Some players did not speak to the media. Others looked as if they were somewhere else. One has to wonder, therefore: Has Paul Westphal lost the Kings? Whether the system is failing because it is ineffective or because the players are failing to execute it, the Kings seem to be playing as individuals lacking direction on the court.
As Casspi put it, “We need to start playing team offense and team defense.”
The situation is grim at best, and until President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie makes a roster or personnel change, it will not get any better.
Tuesday Night’s loss was an especially crushing blow that for the first time signaled a team in flux. It was the type of loss that can cost a coach his job, the type of loss that signals the beginning of the end.
After his press conference, Westphal stepped out of the media room, paused in front of a column and exhaled deeply while looking to the sky for answers, before composing himself and heading back towards his team’s locker room.
From the scene sprung a question that nobody in the locker room was asking, but everybody knew was present – like an elephant in the room: Is Paul Westphal the man to lead Sacramento Kings? It is one thing for the media to ask, another for the fans to raise the question.
Once the players start asking, the answer is no – the Coach has lost his team.
Joseph D. Robbins is a contributing editor at israelsportsradio.com