Editors Note: This interview took place on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 before the NBA locked out their players.
Welcome to part II of the Cowbell Kingdom summer interview series with Coach Paul Westphal. The Sacramento Kings dropped a bombshell on their fan base just hours before the 2011 NBA draft when they reacquired journeyman small forward John Salmons. Confusion, anger, utter disbelief reigned as fans lined up single file on the Tower Bridge and jumped to their deaths in the icy water below. Not really, but between the Salmons trade and rumors that Sam Dalembert has very little interest in returning to the Sacramento Kings, a lot of fans lost sleep. Thankfully, fans don’t get to make the hard decisions, men with years of NBA experience do.
James Ham: You just brought in Salmons and that gives you five small forwards (pre-Omri Casspi trade), how is that situation going to settle out? Is there going to be some movement there?
Coach Westphal: Like I said, we’re not through with our roster yet. You can never know what move you can make, particularly now because we don’t know what the collective bargaining rules are going to be. But there will be moves made with our roster, I don’t think we’ll go in with five small forwards with a twelve man roster, but several of those players are flexible and can play multiple positions. A lot of this will be addressed when it’s possible to address it.
Read more after the jump.
James Ham: We’ve talked about Salmons a little bit already, but are you getting the same player that left here a few years ago? Because a lot of the talk is that when John came to Sacramento the first time, it was his first real chance to be a starter in the league and maybe he was trying to prove something. Do you think he’s matured as a player and might be a more well-rounded player than he was last time around?
Coach Westphal: Oh I do. I know that his shooting percentage was down a little bit this year and a lot of that you can point to the injury he had earlier in the year. I think he’s in his prime, he’s got some great experience, he was very successful when he was here before and I think that there is no reason to think that he’s not a better player right now than when he left.
James Ham: You moved down three spots in the draft to get Salmons, can you kind of walk us through the logic of that transaction. Was Salmons just that much of a need player?
Coach Westphal: He answers a lot of what we have been looking for at that three spot. He’s a top notch defender at the position that is hardest to defend. The best athletes in the world play the two and three in the NBA and he can defend them as well as anybody. That’s a major plus. He is a good ball handler. He is a good post up player and he is a very good three point shooter. All of those things help compliment the rest of the players we have on the roster in a way that I think will really help our offense run more smoothly. One of the biggest problems that we have had to deal with is once it’s been established that point guards are helpless guarding Tyreke (Evans) in the post, 90% of the point guards in the league never guard him – if Beno (Udrih) was playing, they’d guard Beno, sometimes they’d guard Spencer (Hawes) before they’d guard Tyreke. (laughing)
It’s been a problem for us because we would like to have the point guards, guard Tyreke. If we have Tyreke, John and Marcus Thornton out there, it’s in our favor because it’s a really tough match-up. Marcus Thornton is a dynamic post player, especially if he has a size mismatch and so is Salmons. I think that helps our overall picture in a big way because of John’s versatility and his ability to play inside and outside and also have an in-between game. The experience that he’s had in the league to understand the various times to use what he’s got.
James Ham: I know one of your objectives this off-season was to add veteran leadership. That hasn’t always been Salmons’ strong suit. Is the leadership issue something you still hope to address, through free agency or through trades in this off-season?
Coach Westphal: Leadership … it’s easy to know when you see it, it’s hard to define it in advance. Leadership grows or people grow into a role like that and every team has a little bit different dynamic. I think Tyreke has some abilities in that area that we’re going to see coming out next year. I think Marcus Thornton is a quiet leader. I think Salmons with the experience and maturity he has will be a respected player. I think Jimmer has real leadership qualities even though we don’t expect him to come in and start directing traffic to the extent that he probably will a few years down the road. It will be interesting to see how that develops as we complete our roster too.
James Ham: Switching gears, there have been some things written about how Dalembert might not have left on the best terms. How did his exit interview go? From your estimation, do you think that Dalembert would consider coming back to Sacramento?
Coach Westphal: Oh I think he would. He didn’t come off as an unhappy person at all. There are some things that he would like to see different, but so would we. At the same time, I think he helped us, I think the way we finished the season gave him a glimpse of what it could look like at a minimum. I don’t think he’s closed the door to coming back here at all and we haven’t closed the door to having him. I’m sure he’s going to want to get well paid wherever he goes and that will be the largest factor, more so than him not wanting to be someplace. I didn’t get the feeling that he was unhappy at all.
James Ham: Last season, I watched Dalembert workout a lot and even with Whiteside on occasion. He came in with a questionable reputation, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. He seemed to be a pretty good teammate and a pretty good leader.
Coach Westphal: Sam is a professional. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and at this stage in his career, it’s pretty well established what Sam Dalembert can do for a team. Most teams need what he can do and I think he’s got several good years left and he can be an asset to anybody.
Clearly Coach Westphal was on board with the acquisition of John Salmons. While Beno Udrih was a valuable member of last season’s Sacramento Kings team, Westphal was hoping for and received the stabilizing influence he was looking for at the small forward position. Sometimes it’s about fit and Westphal thinks he can make things work with a starting line-up that includes three or four high usage players.
Coming up after the Fourth of July holiday, we will complete our summer series with Coach Westphal. Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Honeycutt, Isaiah Thomas are on the docket.