Kings owner Joe Maloof denied a report by CBSSports.com Friday that the team was considering firing GM Geoff Petrie and coach Paul Westphal after 21 losses in 23 games.
“There’s nothing going on,” Maloof told CBSSports.com by phone. “Paul Westphal is the coach and Geoff is our general manager. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”
When pressed, Maloof said definitively that Petrie and Westphal will be in their positions for the remainder of the 2010-11 season regardless of how many games the team loses.
“Yes,” Maloof said. “We’re not making any moves. The answer is yes.”
A person with direct knowledge of recent statements by a high-ranking member of the organization painted a different picture, telling CBSSports.com that frustration with the Kings’ 5-22 record had reached a breaking point. At one point after the Kings’ 84-79 home loss to the Bucks Thursday night, owner Gavin Maloof was overheard in the tunnel saying that the culture of the organization had to change. “It’s time to hit the reset button,” Gavin Maloof said, according to the source.
Gavin Maloof did not return a phone call seeking comment early Friday.
His brother, Joe, expressed confidence in Petrie and Westphal, citing the team’s past two first-round picks, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, who has been fined, kicked out of practice, and most recently, fined and benched by Westphal for making a choking sign during a loss to Golden State Tuesday night.
“DeMarcus Cousins, he’s going to be a tremendous player,” Joe Maloof said. “He’s going to have his ups and downs just like any rookie does. I’m telling you the way I feel. He’s got extraordinary talent, and with he and Tyreke, we have a tremendous future. … I think going forward, we’re in a great, great position. We’re in a wonderful situation.”
One of the people who earlier spoke to CBSSports.com, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss company business, said there were concerns within the organization about whether Westphal was the right coach to calm Cousins’ combustible personality and groom him into a dependable star.
Joe Maloof said, “We’re very, very happy with all of our young players and I see a bright future with DeMarcus.”
The same person said Petrie has gone to bat for Westphal, urging the Maloofs to give him time with Cousins before making an assessment. He said the Maloofs were deeply concerned about Westphal – Petrie’s hire – because they view Cousins as “the hope of the franchise,” and they were beginning to fear that, “Paul isn’t the right guy to mature this guy.”
“He’s not at war with his coach,” Joe Maloof said of Cousins. “That’s not true.”
When confronted about whether the Maloofs were concerned that Petrie had urged them to exercise a guarantee in Westphal’s contract for 2011-12 -- given the turmoil with Cousins and the losing -- Joe Maloof said, “We’re glad we did it. We did it for a reason. And the reason is that we have a lot of confidence in Paul. He’s a true professional. He’s a class act.
“We’ve got a very young team, an inexperienced team with no veteran leadership,” Joe Maloof said. “And that’s something that we’re going to look to acquire in the future. We know what our deficiencies are: our shooting and free throws. But we’re in every game to the wire. It’s been very frustrating we’ve lost these games. You have your peaks and your valleys, and right now we’re in a valley. So what? You can climb out of that valley, and we will. We have the assets. We have the resources. When you have the cap space, it’s a tremendous thing in the NBA. And it’s a tremendous thing going forward. Next year, we’ll have a lot of money going forward. We didn’t want to spend our money until we knew what the consequences would be with the collective bargaining agreement.”
Sources said John Whisenant, a longtime friend of the Maloofs and the GM and coach who led the Sacramento Monarchs to the WNBA championship, was at the top of the Maloofs’ list of candidates to succeed Petrie as GM. Assistant coach Jim Eyen, a longtime assistant for former Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, was the probable choice to take over as interim coach. But with Joe Maloof saying definitively early Friday that no in-season change would be made with either position, those plans are on hold.
Petrie, understanding that his job security had taken a hit when he agreed to a severe pay cut this season, had been urging the Maloofs to let him groom his son, Mike, to replace him, according to sources who said the Maloofs recently rejected the idea.
After enjoying a honeymoon period in his first season as Kings coach, guiding Evans to a rookie-of-the-year campaign that nonetheless resulted in another trip to the lottery, Westphal has had nothing but turmoil in his second year on the job. According to a person close to Westphal, his authority was hampered by Petrie’s selection of Cousins, a known character risk, with the fifth pick in the draft. True to his reputation, Cousins has caused problems from the beginning and very quickly began to affect Evans' attitude, the person close to Westphal said.
When asked when he wants to see progress with the current roster and executives in place, Joe Maloof said, “We want to see progress, but like I mentioned to you, our future’s very strong. … We look forward to having a lot of cap room in the future and to be able to make some moves then.
"When we see a player that comes along that has an opportunity to help our franchise, we’ll do that,” he said. “Bt we’re not going to spend money just for the sake of spending money. That cap space is precious. It’s precious.”