SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The Sacramento Kings fired coach Paul Westphal just seven games into the season after a slow start and controversy involving second-year center DeMarcus Cousins.
Keith Smart, a former head coach with the Golden State Warriors, was promoted to head coach, according to the team. Terms of the contract weren’t disclosed but it’s believed to be a two-year deal. Smart was in his first season as a Kings assistant after eight years with Golden State.
Exclusive: Westphal Leaving Kings Offices After Firing
“I want to thank Paul for all of his effort on behalf of the Kings,” said Geoff Petrie, the Kings’ president of basketball operations, in a press release sent out by the team Thursday morning. “Unfortunately, the overall performance level of the team has not approached what we felt was reasonable to expect. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
In two-plus seasons as coach of the Kings, Westphal’s record was 51-120. Sacramento went 24-58 last season and 25-57 in 2009-10.
“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,” said Westphal in the press release. “While the job is far from finished, I am proud of the strides we were able to make.
“Geoff Petrie and his staff have been nothing but honest and supportive throughout my time here. They are first class in every way and I wish them nothing but success. My hope is to see the fans of the Kings and the city of Sacramento rewarded with many years of great basketball.”
Westphal declined further comment when approached by CBS13’s Ben Sosenko at the Kings’ practice facility adjacent to Power Balance Pavilion on Thursday afternoon. “Everything I have to say is in my statement,” he told Sosenko before extending a wave of his hand as he drove off.
In a critical season for Sacramento as the city works for a new downtown arena to keep the team in town, the Kings got off to a rousing start on Dec. 26 with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers before a sold-out crowd at Power Balance Pavilion. But they regressed since then, losing five of their next six games, including a lopsided 110-83 defeat at Denver on Wednesday.
Westphal told Cousins not to suit up for a home game against New Orleans on New Year’s Sunday, the only game the Kings have won since the victory over the Lakers, after the coach said Cousins asked to be traded.
Westphal said it was “only the tip of the iceberg” regarding issues with his second-year big man. Cousins has denied he ever asked to be traded.
Sacramento drafted Cousins with the fifth overall pick in 2010 after he spent one season at Kentucky. The 21-year-old is averaging 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 26 minutes per game this season.
Cousins’ behavior has been well documented going back to high school and his one season at Kentucky, mixing in astonishing athletic ability for a man of his size with outbursts of anger and sulking. His conditioning and work habits have been called into question, but he came into this season in excellent shape.
Asked if he thought his run-ins with Westphal led to the coach’s firing, Cousins said, “I don’t have any control over that. Keith Smart’s our new coach, so it’s time to play ball.”
Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is spearheading the city’s efforts to build a new downtown arena after the Maloofs nearly moved the team to Anaheim after last season, expressed regret for Westphal’s firing on his Twitter account. Johnson played for Westphal when the two were in Phoenix and they went to the NBA Finals in Westphal’s first season, 1993, losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
“Sorry to hear the news abt Paul Westphal. He coached me for many yrs I have great respect for him. wish him the best. More to say later,” Johnson tweeted.
Smart, 47, has more than 22 years of experience in professional basketball as a player and coach. He led the Warriors to 36 wins last season in his only year as the head coach there but was not retained after the team changed ownership. He originally joined the Warriors in 2003 as an assistant coach.
His playing career is best remembered for hitting the game-winning shot for Indiana in the 1987 NCAA championship game against Syracuse.
“Keith will bring a new perspective to the team as we try to move forward with the season,” said Petrie. “He’s very well prepared and will assume the job with some new ideas and new approaches of his own. We’re all excited and looking forward to working with him.”
Smart is the right man for the job, Westphal said.
“When I asked Geoff to add Keith Smart to our staff, I knew that he would be a tremendous asset going forward,” Westphal said in a press release announcing Smart’s promotion. “Keith has my respect and blessing as he assumes the position he is exceptionally qualified to fill.”