Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The King is dead... long live the Kings...

No, this isn't a post about the self-proclaimed King, rather about the Sacramento Kings, and their current situation. A win against the Lakers was nice, but in two games there has been little to no consistency with the number of shots taken by certain players, or the minutes played, or even who is running the point guard position. I know, it's only two games, but it's also been a couple of seasons under Paul Westphal and he has neither the respect of his players or seemingly the willingness to dub either Tyreke, Cousins or Thornton as the clear first option, rather choosing to let the players run wild so to speak, and preventing them gaining a rhythm. This wasn't so much of a problem in Tyreke's rookie year, where it was obvious that he was the man, but since the talented and more experienced Thornton has entered the fray the lines have become blurred. Cousins only complicates the problem further.

Those of you who watched the remarkable OKC-MIN game would have noticed the startling change from last season, Adelman had his players motivated and defending to the best of their ability. The people who watched the Wolves play the Bucks would have also seen how different they were without Adelman on the sidelines. The moral of the story being this; a bad record doesn't indicate a bad team, sometimes it just comes down to bad coaching or a bad coaching fit, and everything I see in the Kings feels the same way. The sooner they do away with Westphal the better, and with the right coach they could actually take positive steps with all that talent, provided the players buy into the new coach's philosophy.

So let's take a look at the candidates in no particular order;

1. Mike Woodson
To me, Woodson was hard done by when he was unceremoniously booted from the Atlanta Hawks for having them hovering around the 50-win mark for the last few seasons of his tenure. How dare he take a team of talented youngsters and teach them how to play as a team! The state of the Hawks when Woodson took over bear similarities to this young Kings team. They were very talented but inconsistent and saw a gradual improvement under Woodson's care. A consistent approach from a coach who stresses fundamentals and good defensive play like Woodson would do wonders for the Kings. It also doesn't hurt that he has a knack for relating to younger players and was well respected by his team during his tenure in Atlanta. A massive shift in power is taking place in the Western Conference, with powerhouses like the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks seemingly taking backward steps. In two to three years the transition from young to old will be complete, and if the right coach doesn't develop these players the Kings will miss out and be forced to start rebuilding all over again. Now, to quote Chris Rock "He won't get you to the promised land, but he'll get you to the playoffs, which is good enough". Like Doug Collins paved the way for Phil Jackson in Chicago, so too will Woodson prepare his young charges for a championship run by instilling them with good fundamentals and hard work.

2. Jeff Van Gundy
A coach who knows a thing or two about winning games in a lockout shortened season, as evidenced by his run to the Finals with the 98-99 Knicks, Jeff has expressed an interest in coaching again, and with his protege Mark Jackson finally given a shot at a head coaching position, it might be time for the mentor to do the same. Van Gundy brings a great pedigree and a thorough understanding of how the game of basketball should be played, which is something a number of Kings players have struggled with in the past. While I confess I'm not too familiar with Van Gundy's system, you can't argue with results, and his teams have always been competitive, which is what the fans in Sacramento need.

3. Brian Shaw
Shaw served his time as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson and was the man many expected to take over from the Zen Master when he retired. However, Dr Buss decided to go in another direction and the Lakers were left with Grimac- I mean Mike Brown. While Shaw is unproven as a head coach, he's a young ex-player who knows the triangle intimately, and when you look at the Kings roster, they have all the pieces there to be very successful with that system. You have the star SG in Tyreke Evans, whose passing ability will come to the fore and help him emulate his predecessors Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as focal points of the triangle. There is rookie Jimmer Fredette who is a sharp-shooter in the mould of Steve Kerr with more moves, and Marcus Thornton is a similarly gifted combo guard. Finally, the requisite big man in DeMarcus Cousins whose skill-set and brute force would allow him to combine some of the best attributes of previous post players to run the triangle in Shaq and Gasol, although obviously Shaq is inimitable. However, the biggest case for this system is that they lack a true point guard and the triangle removes the need for one whilst providing the young Kings with more structure in both spacing and movement off the ball. For these reasons and more, Shaw would be an upgrade over Westphal.

4. Phil Jackson
I know, I know, he's retired. We've heard that before though, and look at the results - two more rings. As nice as it would be for Shaw to be given a chance to work the magic of the triangle, no coach has ever implemented it as successfully as the thoroughly unique Phil Jackson. While the system is important, with young players sporting attitudes which can be deemed questionable at the very least, Jackson's ability to get player to buy into his philosophy using his Zen Master voodoo is what truly sets him apart from any coach before or since he came along. However, this is a wildly unrealistic hire given Jackson's age and retired status, but if he ever changes his mind, a damn near perfect roster for his needs will be waiting for him.

So there you have it, the list of coaches I think would be best suited to replace the underachieving Westphal in Sactown. While they all have their faults - although some have nothing to do with ability - each one would be an improvement over the current King. The ideal situation, if we are talking absolute best case scenario would be for Woodson to prepare this team for a few years and have a rejuvenated Jackson/Winter combo take the reigns. Whatever the case, the Sacramento Kings are in dire need of a revolution, and Westphal's should be the first head to roll.

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