Following the Kings unbelievable victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, I was able to steal a few more minutes with Coach Paul Westphal while the team is on the road. The Kings have two more games on its seven game-all-star break-interrupted road trip that has seen some pretty high high’s and low low’s. It doesn’t get any easier for the team in purple and black as they play back-to-back games in Charlotte and Memphis before returning home to what has become a fire storm of controversy with the team’s ownership pondering relocation. Coach Westphal and I talk victories, trades, rumors and relocation in yet another candid interview.
JH: With all that is happening with your team right now, how proud are you of the effort that they brought tonight against a very good Orlando Magic team?
Coach Westphal: It’s a very satisfying win. I’m happy for the players because when you take everything into account, you know, the trade deadline with its uncertainty, the losing streak we have been on, the injury to Tyreke, the upheaval with DeMarcus and Donté last week, just the specter of uncertainty with the arena situation and all the rumors surrounding that, and anybody’s personal situation you know, players are wondering how their career is going, and in the midst of all of this stuff to be able to focus and play that well together and to really lay it out there like that and have success is quite a nice thing for these guys. They had to play hard, and they had to play together, and they had to focus – I’m really happy for all of these guys.
JH: Jermaine Taylor has taken some huge steps in his development over the last few games. How excited are you to see his development and maybe get a little glimpse into what he can bring to the table for your team?
Coach Westphal: Jermaine’s really making the most of his opportunity. It’s really exciting to see. It’s too soon to judge, but he’s answered all the challenges in a very nice way. He’s fit right in offensively and defensively, he’s done a credible job. He’s certainly making the most of his opportunity.
JH: You had to pull Carl Landry aside before the game in Miami and tell him something was going on trade-wise and he wasn’t going to be playing. How did he take the news and how did the team take the news that he was being shipped to New Orleans?
Coach Westphal: I think it was a surprise to everybody. I didn’t even know that anything was going on. Geoff (Petrie) called me five minutes before our team meeting and said that it could happen and so I didn’t tell anybody. I waited until after the game to tell Carl. I’m sure that everybody was scratching their heads wondering what’s up because Carl had never not played before. I think that the players have been around enough to know that things like this can happen and you just have to deal with it and compartmentalize whatever is going on and focus on what you can focus on. It’s not anything you can ignore but they dealt with it as appropriately as they could under the circumstances.
JH: What kind of input do you have into the type of player you need or which of your players might be on their way out? I’m sure you and Geoff talked about this before it happened and you knew that one of your front court guys might be moved, but what kind of role do you have in all of this?
Coach Westphal: Geoff and I talk all the time and we have a real good idea of how we evaluate our talent and what we need, what we can give up or would give up to fill different needs. I don’t get involved in working the phones or going through the various scenarios, that is Geoff and his staff’s job and they’re great at that. We share evaluations about generalities or specifics. We’ve talked about Marcus Thornton a lot and about the possibility that Carl might not be able to be retained, and that we might have to get something for him. So there was no need to get into detail about it once things were worked out.
JH: So you had talked about Thornton in the past, what are your thoughts on how he is going to fit into this puzzle?
Coach Westphal: He is a very intriguing player. He’s had sporadic opportunities to try and grow into whatever kind of NBA player he’s going to be. He started off not playing much last year and then by the end of the year he had a real opportunity to be a starter and he put up some real significant numbers. Then they changed coaches and things went back to being pretty unpredictable for him as far as playing time goes. He’s been on a little bit of a roller coaster, but he is just a year and a half into his career. It will be really interesting to evaluate him firsthand because you can never really get a feel for somebody until you see them in practice and see how they react to their teammates in different situations, up close.
JH: Are the other players nervous with the trade deadline still looming or do they kind of feel like the Landry trade was the big one and they’ve weathered the storm?
Coach Westphal: Well, I haven’t polled the room (laughing), I don’t go around asking everybody if they are nervous that they might get traded tomorrow. I haven’t heard a lot of humor about it either, but I think that any player can’t help but know when the trade deadline is. There haven’t been a lot of rumors floated about our players so I don’t think that they are inordinately concerned about it at this time.
JH: The rumors came out today that you guys might have just barely missed out on acquiring Deron Williams from Utah. First up, what a heart breaker if those rumors are true, but secondly, the most amazing thing about the way the Kings conduct their business is that there is really no confirmed source as to what players might have been involved so that must make your job a little easier that you don’t have to clean up a mess when it doesn’t happen.
Coach Westphal: I don’t know that (Williams rumors) to be true, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, we’ve never talked about any specifics about that. We do like to keep things quiet both before and after, so if there was any truth to that, I don’t think we would have any postmortem about what we would have given up or would have done. I also think it is interesting that New Jersey was totally quiet about what was going on between them and Utah also. You know who the leakers are in these more prominent trades that become soap operas. I think it’s always more appropriate to handle your business quietly rather than drag it out because you get a lot of people damaged if you let it get too public too prematurely.
Geoff wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t talk to all of the teams. If Utah knows that they are going to trade Deron Williams, they are going to try and get the best deal they can get and they are going to talk to any team where they think they might be able to get a good deal. That’s the nature of Geoff’s job, you make calls and you answer calls. It’s best to keep those things confidential and you never know what anybody will do until they do it. All the speculation is really meaningless anyway, particularly after the fact.
JH: We are coming up to the March 1st deadline for relocation and I know you are not going to be able to talk about what’s going on and you might not even know what’s going on, but are your players ready for what is going to transpire on Monday? Because it seems like it’s going to be a pretty emotional night inside the stadium.
Coach Westphal: Well (extended pause), we haven’t talked about it. You can’t help but see that it’s all over the news. I’m very much hoping that things work out in Sacramento. These fans deserve the Kings to be in town and I think that the sellout for the Clippers game is going to be an emotional, magnificent time and I hope it galvanizes people to make something magical happen. Right now, we are all the way across the country, concentrating on the two games we have to go, and a lot of the players don’t have any idea of the intensity that is going on in Sacramento and I don’t either – I can only imagine and from reading the articles and talking to you. I have always said that Sacramento loves the Kings and it’s an important thing to make it happen for that love affair to continue.
It should be noted that this conversation took place the night before the trade deadline. The Kings are a very tight-lipped organization regarding player movement so it was nice to get a small glimpse into the process of how the Carl Landry trade went down. I also found it refreshing to hear Westphal speak so highly of the fans of Sacramento, as they face so much uncertainty. Good luck to the Kings, who still have a chance to make this road trip a success if they can pull out wins against the Bobcats and the Grizzlies over the next two games.