Kings give Smart two-year contract as new coach
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Determined to give their young team a fresh voice before another season is lost, the Sacramento Kings named Keith Smart to replace fired coach Paul Westphal.
Smart was given a two-year contract that is guaranteed through the 2012-13 season, league sources told Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.
Westphal was fired Thursday morning, hours after the team suffered a 27-point loss to the Denver Nuggets and just four days after the coach openly feuded with center DeMarcus Cousins. Kings general manager Geoff Petrie said he recommended to owners Joe and Gavin Maloof on Wednesday afternoon that Westphal be replaced. He gave Westphal the news at the team’s practice facility on Thursday morning.
Smart, who joined Westphal’s staff this season as an assistant, made his debut as head coach in Thursday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He served as head coach of the Golden State Warriors last season before being let go in April.
“This opportunity here is not like a coach wants to come into,” Smart said. “I had a chance to work with a great man in the short period I was here in Coach Westphal. He told me, ‘Don’t be stupid and regret this. I want you to go coach the team.’ I felt that he meant that from the bottom of his heart.”
Under Westphal, the Kings opened what could ultimately be the franchise’s final season in Sacramento with a 2-5 record, worst in the Western Conference. All but one of the losses were by at least 17 points.
Westphal’s firing comes four days after he banished Cousins from the team for one game, saying the young center demanded a trade. Petrie said Cousins didn’t play a role in Westphal’s firing.
“There is going to be the temptation here, obviously, to lay a lot of this at the doorstep of DeMarcus Cousins,” Petrie said. “That’s really unfair to DeMarcus. A lot of this goes to the greater area the way the team is buying in, the performance of a lot of players on the team beyond DeMarcus.”
Westphal and Cousins argued in the coach’s office after the Kings’ loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday, team sources said. One player said he heard Cousins say, “Trade me,” but Cousins’ agent denied his client was making a formal trade demand.
Westphal had the team release a statement Sunday night saying he ordered Cousins to stay away from that evening’s game against the New Orleans Hornets because Cousins “continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team.” Petrie said he knew Westphal was going to issue the statement about Cousins, but that the Maloofs were unaware.
Just last week, Cousins had another verbal altercation with Westphal after Westphal called him for a technical in practice, several sources said.
Cousins returned to the Kings on Monday and played in their past two games, but didn’t start. He started against the Bucks in Smart’s first game as coach.
Cousins said he didn’t influence Westphal’s firing.
“I’m just a player. I’m not in control of that,” Cousins said. “That’s a management decision. I don’t know what the reason is. But Keith Smart is our new coach so it’s time to play ball.”
Westphal was 51-120 in two-plus seasons as coach of the Kings.
“I would like to thank the Maloof family for the incredible opportunity they gave me to participate in the attempt to bring the Sacramento Kings back to prominence,” Westphal said in a statement. “While the job is far from finished, I am proud of the strides we were able to make.”
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