The Paul Westphal firing has revealed a great truth to me: Geoff Petrie is the devil. Since the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing you he didn't exist (or is Geoff Petrie but I digress), I suppose you'll have to continue reading on. Geoff Petrie is a snake. He snaked Paul Westphal, and the sad part is that Westphal probably doesn't even find it surprising. After all, a snake is what's required of a GM, or Prez of Bball Ops, in this world we live in. A snake, or a bumbling anger filled on the inside calm on the outside old man masquerading as Geoff Petrie. But I digress.
The truth is that Paul Westphal is convenient for Geoff Petrie here. It's Paul Westphal's fault that he couldn't get along with Spencer Hawes. It's Paul Westphal's fault that Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin couldn't co-exist. It's Paul Westphal's fault that Carl Landry didn't play better in Sacramento. It's Paul Westphal's fault that Omri Casspi didn't turn into an all-world pro. It's Paul Westphal's fault that Donte Greene couldn't make the jump as a professional basketball player. It's Paul Westphal's fault that Tyreke Evans jogs back in transition defense and makes repeatedly lazy plays. It's Paul Westphal's fault that DeMarcus Cousins' is lazy on the court at times and is petulant beyond belief. If that doesn't pass the smell test, that's because it doesn't pass the smell test. For a lot of people firing Paul Westphal is convenient.
The hard things, like trading Kevin Martin, wouldn't have come with a convenient fall guy in place like Westphal. After all, you bring in Keith Smart as the head coach in 2009 and that anger is directed at him. Westphal? He gives fans a new choice as a head coach to root for whether it's Keith Smart or a new head coach this summer. Who knows? Maybe the chemistry is too wrecked to compete for a playoff spot and the Kings get lucky and get a top 3 pick. (I'm stumping for Michael Gilchrist.) Guess what? It's all horseshit. Don't believe for a minute that Petrie wouldn't trade away Kevin Martin for his own reasons, like, for instance, that Martin wasn't never an ideal pairing with Tyreke Evans without a player to play off of (i.e. Brad Miller or Spencer Hawes). But you say wait a moment!?! What about DeMarcus Cousins? What about him? Was it a guarantee in February 2010 where you were going to settle in the draft? Was getting Cousins a guarantee? And since when was Cousins seen as a facilitating big man at the high post kind of offensive player from his time at Kentucky? That's the problem here: Revisionist history will take over.
While I agree with much of what Tom Ziller wrote on SBN.com yesterday, it forgets the Kevin Martin point unfortunately. (This isn't surprising since this is the same guy who wrote this, but, well, consider the source.) I'm not going to sit here and be a hypocrite though: I was just as resistant to a Kevin Martin trade as everyone else who was on the Kevin Martin wagon. Let's be honest here: Geoff Petrie knew that Kevin Martin's value would likely decline if Spencer Hawes didn't respond to Paul Westphal. Geoff Petrie had just signed a long term extension with the Maloofs a few months prior to that Martin trade. It's not like self preservation wasn't a part of that deal. Yes, the Martin-Landry trade saved the Kings money (which ultimately did matter--but in the grand scheme of things shouldn't have--even I can't lay that on the feet of Petrie), but that wasn't the only motivation behind that particular trade at that time. It was part of maximizing the value of Kevin Martin too. But, Petrie is a snake and knew that most who were behind Martin would blame Westphal.
Since a chunk of the lesser knowledgable fans probably never really gravitated towards Kevin Martin anyway, it wasn't a major issue with the whole fanbase. Just the knowledgable few. Paul Westphal was not responsible for the dearth of asset's this franchise had when PW took over as a coach. PW knew those dearth of asset's existed, but it's not like PW had a choice here. Paul Westphal wasn't a young man in 2009, and isn't now. Most teams want to start fresh with a younger face they can sell to the fanbase and with Westphal's history there was no way you could ever consider PW a fresh face by any definition. Geoff Petrie needed a transition coordinator to ease the transition of remodeling, rebuilding and reshaping the direction of a franchise. Petrie needed a willing patsy at the right price. Who better than Paul Westphal? The funniest thing I've ever seen come out of a players mouth was what I saw Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins was that they felt free under Keith Smart. What? You mean Paul Westphal didn't give you enough responsibility or gave you too much? (I think it was too much.) Guess what kiddies: This is grown up time. Being a grown up means taking your share of responsibility. When you're a star NBA player who is considered to be a franchise pillar who has a lot of responsibility. This is why I find the whole idea of a screaming head coach so funny: How would have Cousins or Evans responded to that? I loved this specific part of the column Sam Amick of SI wrote with Joe Maloof being quoted at the end:
"It was Geoff and the basketball operation's decision [to fire Westphal in the final year of his contract]," Maloof said. "He thought it was time for change and that's what they decided to do. We appreciate everything Paul's done. He's been very, very professional, and is a terrific, classy guy. It's tough to do, but the time had come." Why now? "You have to ask Geoff," Maloof said. "I'm not sure about what specifically. The team wasn't playing as to where we expected it to be playing.
From Marc Stein's (of ESPN) Weekend Dime:
If/when Sacramento does reach the point of shopping him, there will be no shortage of takers -- no matter what's happened so far -- who believe they'll be able to manage Cousins better than the overmatched Kings. What sort of support system did Sacramento put in place? Why would Kings president Geoff Petrie allow Westphal to release a statement on team letterhead Sunday saying that Cousins was being sent home for demanding a trade ... unless Petrie wanted Westphal to set himself up to be axed and justify the firing at such an unusually early juncture? How can anyone in the organization assail Cousins' professionalism when Petrie's department has made mistake after mistake in recent years to transform the Kings into a lottery fixture and alienate the NBA's most vociferous fan base?
Not a single person that I know or trust doesn't think Geoff Petrie is a huge part of this failure of the franchise to move forward. But I'll take it one step further: I think Geoff Petrie wanted, needed, and desired a stop gap/caretaker head coach so Petrie can maintain the one thing he most desperately seemingly cares about at this point: Geoff Petrie's power. Yeah. This whole firing was a power trip. The Maloofs care about their money, and see the money on Westphal as a sunk cost right now. The money being paid to Keith Smart won't bring back a value yet. But I can guarantee that Smart's value as a head coach may bring back that value if, and only if, the fans come back in force to watch a young and hopefully improving team. This whole deal was about self-preservation here. The Maloofs, Petrie, Evans and Cousins. If you think anything otherwise, then the only fool is you. None of this hasn't been said or intimated though, and it certainly is not the real question that matters here. The real question: Why does it take sneaky slimy types to be successful in this situation? Because those are the types that survive the emotional hurdles of a basketball team. Fans get emotional and demanding. Do you think that running a basketball team will attract honest and reasonable type of personalities? Most people hold themselves above everything else regardless of the situation anyway. Why would you expect any different in this kind of deal?
You ask: Why not Tom Thibodeau? Because Thibodeau would threaten Geoff Petrie's power and standing as a GM. (Petrie's power is clearly diminishing though.) Because Petrie wanted one more real shot at building a winner with the tools he knew that would be available. It's not like the Kings are oozing with resources in even the best years of this franchise. It's also not like Thibodeau's reputation would have been well served taking over the Kings back in 2009. It simply was not the type of job where a coach comes out ahead. This franchise needed a caretaker head coach who could guide it through the rough unwelcome realities of rebuilding, the rough and ridiculous rough patch of transitioning from more seasoned veterans with known skills to players with less developed and refined skill-sets. That transition is ridiculously rough. The Kings needed someone to guide this franchise through those perilous moments that sinks every franchise if the right kind of move isn't made at the right time. Tyreke Evans was always going to make a rough transition from ballhog to all-around effective great player. Those warts needed a caretaker to be pushed at. DeMarcus Cousins was always going to an overly emotional loudmouth buffoon with questionable shot selection, turnover and foul problems. Those warts needed a caretaker to be pushed at. It's easy to sum up those issue's as easy or nice when the given reality certainly makes it far less than certain that any such outcome would be made or lost on the back of Paul Westphal.
The reality is that the Kings best era, with Chris Webber, happened in part because those warts with Webber were mostly absorbed by other teams and franchises with a younger player. Being pragmatic says you either lose the 2 young players who were always going to lead you to the most important place you want this franchise to go, or more accurately lose the head coach the fanbase never really loved (for lots of reasons), that the Prez of BBall Ops never saw as a long term solution, or the ownership that resented paying a caretaker for a 3rd season to give the prospect, or in actuality the illusion of such, of continuity. Additionally, you have the mainstream media covering all this up because the primary and important sports property for any Sacramento media to cover is the Kings. There isn't anything else. Even though the Bee has covered Bay Area sports for a long time, the real coverage of the Bee in the sports page revolves around Sac St, high school coverage (important to be sure), and the Kings. The Kings pay for the first two. If you lose your good graces with the franchise, or the snake that runs the basketball operations, you lose a huge chunk of your information because the sources you have dry up. It's very clear why Grant Napear gets to be a mouthpiece on the primetime drive home radio show in Sacramento: Geoff Petrie wants a mouthpiece in that spot. Because 1140 needs that Kings contract to stay alive in the Sacramento market, the station still give Geoff Petrie what he wants. From Zach Lowe of SI:
In the short term, what’s the ceiling here? The best way to win in the NBA is to have a franchise-level superstar, and the Kings don’t have that, unless Evans or Cousins makes a gigantic leap. They’re hard to get, and it’s not as if the Kings have passed over one in any of the last half-dozen drafts; go look back at the last five or six drafts and point to a player they obviously should have taken over the one they picked. All the trading failed to do much, which is usually what happens when you’re dealing league-average guys or broken veterans. Franchise-changing free agents haven’t been interested, despite the cap space. And so we have a franchise in an ugly holding period. Westphal failed to make it any less ugly. Now we get to see new guy give it a try.
Very few are willing to admit this, starting with Petrie, but the Kings were in a ridiculously awful position because of Petrie and the Maloofs insistence to avoid rebuilding. Kevin Martin was the Kings best asset the Kings had, along with Jason Thompson, before the 4th and 5th picks that became Evans and Cousins. Martin was not a league-wide prime asset in 2009. Or now. If that was the case, the Kings would have not traded Martin. The sad truth is that Martin is a very valuable one trick pony, when you know what that trick is, and if you have the surrounding talent to not either A) put Martin on an island so that his weaknesses sink you as a franchise, or B) so that you aren't wasting $$$ paying a guy to do one thing. Martin was going to average nearly 11 million (over the life of his contract) a season to score and score efficiently. That's a lot of cheddar when you have another ball dominant scorer in Tyreke Evans who offers the possibility in growing a lot more area's than Martin. Jason Thompson was the only other reasonable trade asset back when PW took over in 2009. Thompson came up in the Rondo trade rumors along with that 4th pick, but beyond that Thompson was supposedly turned down in a Jeff Teague trade (something I'm glad despite Teague's recent success) and we haven't heard much chatter since then about JT. If there is anything that has taught me about chatter, it's that most chatter means little because it's mostly just that: Chatter. The media has information to peddle, and the way they sometimes peddle the less valuable part of this information is to pass along what most in the NBA see as worthless chatter. Fans love it because fans are always wanting to know more.
When you see it as a game, you probably will just ignore it for no other reason than that crap is beyond your own control. When media outlets get ignored for their pointless chatter, what's next? Media outlets get money because they garner attention, and without that chatter there is no attention. This is all part of the problem naturally with Geoff Petrie: He does send things out anonymously through various writers in the country. It's just hard to tell because we can't pin Petrie down with what he is saying. Petrie is exceptionally obtuse and deliberate with his presser's. He has a message that he wants to get out there for a real reason: Geoff Petrie doesn't want to be seen as playing the other nasty less admirable side of the game which is spreading nasty sometimes untruthful thoughts about the Kings and other NBA things going on. None of this had to do with Westphal necessarily. What all of this has to do with the state of the Kings roster and how it got there.
The reason the Kings roster was in a bad place because Petrie made some decisions that ended up being bad or were difficult to defend in the first place. (The only real "bad" decision that I would claim Geoff Petrie made in Free Agency was signing Mikki Moore.) Francisco Garcia is a player that has talent, and would it have made sense to let him go? Sure, if you knew he was going to get hurt exercising on an exercise ball. The fact is that every roster pretty much has an unsavory contract for one reason or the other. Garcia is the real bad contract on this roster at the moment, but even that will pass too. By 2013, Garcia will come off the cap just as a new (theoretically anyway) big contract for Tyreke Evans kicks in. Petrie acquired Salmons for a couple of reasons. One was that he knew the SF spot wouldn't be necessarily improved by spending the cap space. Two was that Beno Udrih's value was going to go down with Jimmer Fredette around. Whether you like John Salmons or not (I'm guessing not), Salmons was a nice return for Beno Udrih in the wake of Beno actually becoming a fair value asset. The 3rd point is the one that matters here when it comes to roster management: If John Salmons isn't the player the Kings need him to be at the SF or SG spot at some point, they can simply amnesty him. They can use that amnesty rule on him at any point they wish to in the future. For the Kings, the amnesty was always going to be used on John Salmons and John Salmons alone. It wasn't available for anyone else because everyone else was too young, cheap or whose contract wasn't crippling the roster.
After Francisco Garcia, the worst contract in my mind is Travis Outlaw because his value is so low. But it's not like Outlaw is super duper expensive. At some point, a team may need to make a move of financial proportions and trading a player like Outlaw makes a huge amount of sense for the Kings. It won't cripple them financially by any measure because a cheap player who has known skills can be traded. Plus, the advantage with Outlaw is that you don't have to convince a player to come to Sacramento. That player has to come to the team that submits the winning bid in accordance with the amnesty rules. The hardest part with any player is getting them to either stay, or in the case of veteran players to come in the first place. Here's the funniest part about Outlaw and his contract: If Nocioni was here it wouldn't be an issue. (Why not sign Josh Howard to a 2 year 10 million dollar deal if you're the Kings? You needed a veteran F yes?) My point here isn't to say that I would rather have Josh Howard for sure. But if Westphal would rather have Outlaw than Howard, it's up to Geoff Petrie to convince him otherwise. You can blame Paul Westphal for Travis Outlaw, and for wanting veteran players. But, who connected with this roster didn't want a more veteran refined presence on this roster? The real problem was were there better options? Sometimes a decision is just a function of time and place. Not every situation is ideal to make a move.
So part of the issue here is that we as fans want a winning team, but don't always associate the necessary reality that comes with that winning. Sometimes to build a winning team, you have to have a slimeball do dirty work with a caretaker saying "Boss da plane! Boss Da Plane!" Yeah, Paul Westphal is Tattoo in this analogy. We as fans, do we expect better? We want Paul Westphal to be the problem because we know, in the grand scheme of the life we live in, that coaches come and go. That, even though coaches are critical, franchises tend to have staying power with quality ownership and management. Blaming the head coach is easy because we want to win, and, we need a fall guy when things get difficult. We need reasons to justify our existence as fans. We don't want to admit that what happened with Evans and Cousins is pretty par for the course. ( A lot of people haven't even gotten around to what was happening with Evans was just as critical but not as obvious to the naked eye as what happened with Cousins.) We don't want to admit that Geoff Petrie hired Paul Westphal to maintain his power and legacy commensurate with Petrie's wishes. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was not to convince you or I that the devil existed or that the devil was even Geoff Petrie. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us, as Kings fans, that it was necessary for such antics in the first place.