Kings' New Castle Crumbling Amid Rumblings of Major Change
At one locker inside Arco Arena late Thursday night, Tyreke Evans explained his malaise after his team lost for the 21st time in 23 games, reacting to coach Paul Westphal's comments about an unspecified off-court distraction that has affected his mind and his play for, as the reigning Rookie of the Year said, "three months."
At the locker next door, rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins explained his own issues, the latest being yet another volatile argument with the coach after he refused to reciprocate a high-five in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee and subsequently exchanged words with Westphal yet again and was sent to the bench for a long stretch.
Reporters jockeyed for space between the two players, listening to one while not wanting to miss the compelling words of the other as the unwelcome drama played out on both sides.
Behold the disaster story of this season, one that some believe is about to spark major change from the top down and others say will still play out no matter how torturous the results. And while it's a tale with no shortage of subplots or twists and turns, the two players who were supposed to return hope to this most-woeful of teams are at the center of this tumultuous time.
As reported by CBSSports.com, the Maloof family that owns the Kings has been strongly considering firing basketball president Geoff Petrie and coach Paul Westphal. But sources close to the team told FanHouse that the Maloofs have been exploring options for weeks, among them the idea of hiring former Sacramento Monarchs general manager/coach and Maloof family friend John Whisenant to either coach the team or have a front office role.
Yet in a late-night phone call with FanHouse, Kings co-owner Joe Maloof -- whose team has lost 65 of 82 games since last season's 13-14 start that had him convinced his team was back on the NBA map -- said there would be no changes anytime soon.
"No, that's not true," he said in a calm tone. "I don't know where that's coming from. We're fine. We're fine. We have a game-plan. Our future looks bright. We have young talent, (salary) cap space going into next year. (We have) cap space to make moves. We'll stick together. We're not going to go there. Not at all. Not true."
No one expected a Western Conference playoff berth around here, but the Kings powers-that-be certainly talked of winning 30-plus games and even pushing 40 if all went well. Instead, the losses keep coming -- seven straight and none more obscene than Tuesday's overtime meltdown at home against Golden State in which the Maloofs fumed courtside as the Warriors fans took over their once-proud building.
The seat is certainly hotter for Westphal than anyone, even with the declarations that he is safe. And even with Petrie's longstanding Teflon status more tenuous than ever, some of the strongest evidence against him as the Maloofs see it relates to the coach and the medieval culture they have created together.
After the Kings lost 51 of their final 63 games in Westphal's first season, Petrie -- who is the league's longest-tenured front-office member with one team -- pushed the Maloofs to pick up the $2 million team option on his contract for this season. Now, that relatively-nominal financial number is enough to make the Maloofs pause when considering making what would be their fifth coaching change since Rick Adelman was forced out in 2006.
The Maloofs' lack of success with the coaching carousel is certainly on their minds as well, and it appears the spotlight is on Petrie like never before. After making approximately $4 million for the 2009-10 season alone, he signed a three-year deal amid the team's 13-14 start that began at $1.2 million this season and tops out at $1.5 million in 2012-13.
Westphal's most-pressing issues relate directly to Evans and Cousins, and the reality that neither young star -- not to mention so many of their teammates -- is particularly bullish on the idea of a long-term future in Sacramento.
Representatives for both players have been expressing frustration with Westphal for weeks, including attempts on behalf of the Evans camp to apply serious pressure by going directly to the Maloofs. There have been bombshell hints dropped that standing pat won't work for them, that the fourth pick in the 2009 draft would want out of Sacramento if changes aren't made.
The level of panic has only increased as Evans' struggles have continued, with no performance worse than his latest outing in which he shot 2 of 13 from the field and finished with four points, four turnovers, five rebounds, and three assists. Evans, who has been dealing with mild plantar fasciitis said Friday that his health is not a factor despite his production falling drastically in scoring (20.1 points per game last season to 16.2), field-goal percentage (45.8 to 37.6), assists (5.8 to 5.2) and rebounds (5.3 to 4.8).
Westphal came to his defense after the latest debacle.
"He has some things bothering him that I really don't think is anybody's business," Westphal said. "There's more going on in his life, it's kind of a difficult time right now."
Cousins' situation grows worse every day, with his camp claiming that the 20-year-old is becoming the convenient poster boy for all that is wrong in Kings Land while so many other problems continue to be ignored. Yet Cousins, who was fined in October for arguing with staff and thrown out of practice on Nov. 29 for arguing with Westphal, did not help his cause with his latest incident.
Late in the Kings' fourth-quarter choke-job against the Warriors, Cousins twice grabbed his throat while opposing players shot crucial free throws in an apparent attempt to inspire failure. The next day, he was fined for the third time by the team and removed from the starting lineup while Westphal vowed to not return him to that role until he became more professional.
The incident came just as Cousins seemed to be turning a developmental corner, as he had averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds while playing an average of just 26.4 minutes in the 16 games before facing the Warriors. Cousins' agent, John Greig, issued a statement of disagreement to FanHouse regarding the benching.
"I find it a curious decision to bench a productive young player for something that had nothing to do with the game's outcome," Greig wrote. "I'm sure we all can agree that there are many areas of the Kings that need greater professionalism and improvement right now. I told DeMarcus to take it as an honor that such a significant amount of criticism is focused on his mistakes. Great players live with greater expectations."
For now, however, there's no greatness to be found in this quickly-crumbling castle.
E-mail Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @samickAOL.