Getting to Know Coach Westphal.
Since this is my first official Cowbell Kingdom interview, I feel it necessary to lay down some of my personal ground rules in regards to interviews.
- I post what is on the tape. No frills or embellishments. No parceling out the information into sound bites and/or in multiple stories, just the raw transcript (grammatically honed, of course).
- Unless I state otherwise, the questions I ask and the answers that follow are exclusive to myself and the subject. If someone else enters the discussion (say another reporter), I do not use their product- either the question or answer. This is my rule, specific to the interview series – during notes and quotes segments, it is a free for all, so you will get quotes from the group discussions.
Before the Kings suited up to play the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday, November 21, I had an opportunity to sit down with the Kings’ head coach, Paul Westphal. This is something I plan on doing on a regular basis because honestly, love him or hate him, Coach Westphal is a wealth of NBA knowledge and if he is willing to impart even a sliver of that knowledge to me, I am going to listen.
My goal is to get you an in-depth look into both players and coaches. It should be noted that I am a blogger and as such, my access is always tenuous. I could throw people under the bus, but at the end of the day, my main objective is to continue to give an inside look to my readers without being run out of the building. That doesn’t mean that I won’t ask the tough questions, just that I will be reporting on what I see and what I hear.
TPP: This afternoon against New Orleans, we are going to see two slightly similar players in David West and Carl Landry. West might be a slightly better deep perimeter shooter, but how do you compare the two?
PW: That’s a good comparison. West is a little deeper into his career and has more of a body of work, but people consider them slightly undersized power forwards who get the job done inside with their quickness and explosiveness and creativity. They both hit perimeter jumpers as well. West is kind of the prototype for that kind of power forward and Carl is a little bit of a mirror image.
TPP: How are you guys planning to slow down Chris Paul tonight? Is it a general scheme or a specific group of players that you will throw at him?
PW: When I was in Dallas, we lost to him in a five game series. We were convinced that if we made him go left, we could stop him. Both times he went left, we stopped him (laughing). He’s an incredible genius of a player on both ends of the floor and I think you have to give him different looks. If you just do one thing against him, he’ll figure that out and have the answer for it. He can disrupt you defensively as well as offensively. At the same time, you can’t give him anything, you have to fight him nose to nose the whole game and after having said all of that, you sort of have to hope that he has a bad game because he’s that good.
TPP: Are you going to start the game with Luther Head guarding him?
PW: Yeah, we’ll start with Luther on him and Tyreke will be on him some and maybe Beno a little bit, but not too much.
TPP: Last game we saw you cut down to, for the most part, a nine man rotation. How is Omri Casspi taking that (not playing in the previous game against New Jersey)?
PW: I haven’t really had a deep conversation with him about that. He’s taking it and saying okay, but I know he’s not liking it and I wouldn’t expect him to.
TPP: In those situations, do you usually have a conversation before the game and tell them, hey, there is a good chance this is going to happen?
PW: I told him I was going to make a change in the starting line-up and he was fine with it. The way we’re structured is, that starter at that spot, if he doesn’t start, he goes from in the rotation to out of the rotation pretty much because Cisco is going to get most of his minutes at the three. It doesn’t mean that he won’t play, but if you’re tightening the rotation and you’re the third in line at a spot, you know it can go like that.
TPP: I’ve asked you this before, but how do you balance all of these young players and trying to get them to grow while trying not to have six game losing streaks? How do you concern yourself with the veteran players, still knowing that it is very possible that a player like Omri Casspi or Donté Greene or Jason Thompson may still be the future for this team?
PW: The future is whatever any of these players make of the future. I try to coach every player on this team, I don’t look at players that are veterans and think that they are not necessarily part of our future. We’re all relatively young on this team and I’m trying to give the best possible direction I can to each player and develop this team as quickly as we can possibly develop it. There are a lot of ways to improve as a young player and they don’t all revolve around getting force fed minutes. A lot of players improve in this league by watching and learning and waiting for their chance. I don’t feel like we have to give minutes to anybody. When the players develop and earn minutes, that’s when I think you have the best chance for your team to be the way it’s supposed to be.
TPP: Last year I remember you saying that Jason Thompson was a player that, under a normal situation, before you got here, probably would have sat on the bench a year or a year and a half, and really learned how to play at this level. How much of a negative or positive effect can that have on a player, when they are played too early and they learn some bad habits and you have to go backward in order to go forward?
PW: There are negatives and positives about all of those things. I know that when I came into the league as a high first round choice (10th overall 1972 NBA draft) and I thought I could go right in and play. I went into a championship caliber team and they said, “we teach guys by sitting on the bench, son” and I learned a lot from that. Other players get thrown right into it and it doesn’t wreck them. There are different ways to get your feet wet in this league, just like there are different roads to getting into coaching. Sometimes the guy can be a former player and a guy can say, “that really helped me be a better coach.” Other guys come from being high school coaches who never played, but who gain a lot of respect. There are different ways to gain experience and I think the players have to learn their experience from whatever circumstance they find themselves in.
Coach Westphal is taking a lot of heat for his mixing and matching of both line-ups and playing time. At the end of the day, he will be held responsible for more than the overall win-loss record of this team, he will also be held responsible for the maturation of highly touted young players. As someone who follows NBA basketball closely, I will say that 13 games is a very small sample size to know anything about a team as a whole or individual players.
The Kings are a very young team and although that can’t continue to be the excuse forever, Coach Westphal is still trying to figure out how exactly this group fits together on the court. He has started by tightening the rotation, and defensively, the team has responded. He now needs to find a balance between offense and defense. Let’s hope that things get easier from here.