Philadelphia, Pa – In the real world when a 61-year-old supervisor calls out a twentysomething that's acting like a petulant child, you can make a pretty good guess as to who management might back.
But professional sports is anything but the real world and when Paul Westphal finally stood up to an immature but immensely talented DeMarcus Cousins, he in effect signed his own death warrant as head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
In the NBA, when it comes to player vs. coach, the player always wins. The economics of the game virtually guarantees it.
To be fair Westphal wasn't exactly a roaring success in California's capital. In his two-plus seasons as head coach of the Kings, the veteran mentor amassed a paltry record of 51-120. Meanwhile, in what turned out to be his final two games as Sacramento's mentor, the Kings were routed, losing by 17 points in Memphis on Tuesday and following that up with a 27-point setback in Denver on Wednesday.
Cousins, coming off the bench for a second straight night after the blowup, scored a game-high 26 points in the Rockies, showing off his tremendous upside as the Kings fell to 2-5 on the young season.
"There's no doubt that was a kick in our teeth, you can't hide from it," Westphal said after the game. "I still believe we have the makings of a good basketball team."
Whether that's true or not will now be determined by assistant Keith Smart, the former Warriors coach, who will pilot the team tonight against Milwaukee and likely take over on an interim basis.
The straw that broke the camel's back for Westphal in Sac-town wasn't the losing, however. Sure the noose was getting tighter but he still would have had a few more weeks to turn things around. It was his much-publicized rift with the enigmatic Cousins, a player that has already been disciplined a number of times by the Sacramento brass.
Cousins was suspended last season after a locker-room fight with teammate Donte Greene after the forward overlooked Cousins for a potential game-winning shot in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That didn't stop Petrie from focusing his rebuilding program around the big man along with the club's top pick from a year earlier, Tyreke Evans.
On New Year's Day, however, Westphal reached his boiling point with Cousins and sent the 21-year-old home before the team's game against the New Orleans Hornets. Tired of the tantrums, the sulking and angered by a perceived selfishness, perhaps it was a New Year's resolution for Westphal to finally confront Cousins.
Whatever the reason, the veteran coach certainly got a lot off his chest in a statement issued to the media at time but antennas were raised by the actual press release. While it was issued through the team, it was made clear that it came directly from the coach.
The wheels were already in motion and Cousins' coup came to fruition on Thursday afternoon.
Despite the acrimony, Westphal stayed classy while exiting.
"I would like to thank the Maloof family for the incredible opportunity they gave me to participate in the attempt to bring the Sacramento Kings back to prominence," Westphal said in a statement. "While the job is far from finished, I am proud of the strides we were able to make."
In the end, Petrie should have expected more of Westphal. The record speaks for itself and Cousins was hardly the only disgruntled player during the Westphal-Era. Kevin Martin, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, Samuel Dalembert and Spencer Hawes also all butted heads with the coach at various times.
"I want to thank Paul for all of his effort on behalf of the Kings," Petrie said. "Unfortunately, the overall performance level of the team has not approached what we felt was reasonable to expect."
Perhaps that's true but Petrie certainly hasn't made things any easier for Smart or anyone else the team might bring in as coach. A very young man that still doesn't understand what it means to be a professional now realizes just how much power his talents can wield.
I wrote earlier this week that Cousins was in need of an epiphany. That isn't it.