Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Updated: June 10, 8:08 PM ET
Westphal new Kings coach
By Marc Stein
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Sacramento Kings offered their coaching job to two candidates on an eventful Tuesday in the NBA, ultimately reaching an agreement with Paul Westphal after Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis turned the job down.
League coaching sources told ESPN.com that the Kings made a formal offer to Rambis' representatives hours before the Lakers' 108-104 loss to the Orlando Magic in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
When Rambis passed -- having said repeatedly that he was determined to delay any decision about his future after the Finals and with the Kings intent on paying their new hire less than $2 million annually -- Sacramento moved on and agreed with Westphal on a two-year deal with a team option for a third season.
Sources say that the 58-year-old, who has a career record of 267-159 in previous coaching stops in Phoenix and Seattle, will earn $1.5 million for each of the next two seasons, with the Kings to pay Westphal $2 million if they retain him through 2011-12. The agreement was first reported Tuesday night by the Sacramento Bee and later confirmed on the team's Web site by Kings president Geoff Petrie and by Westphal to ESPN's Avery Johnson.
On Wednesday, though, Petrie denied that the job was offered to anyone other than Westphal, telling local reporters after James Harden's pre-draft workout in the Kings' gym that the three finalists -- Westphal, Rambis and Boston Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau -- were instead informed of the salary structure either during their interviews or soon after and had to agree to accept that structure before they would be offered the job.
"The way we approached this hiring was that we had a compensation structure that was basically a pre-qualifying type of commitment that was going to be needed," Petrie said. "... So the job could not have been offered to somebody who had not said that that structure was acceptable. So the only person who was offered this job was Paul Westphal. That's the bottom line."
Rambis declined comment Tuesday night as he exited Amway Arena following the Lakers' Game 3 loss to Orlando and said again Wednesday that he would not address questions about the Kings' job.
"I have been looking for a good opportunity to get back and do what I like to do and I think that the Kings present an exciting challenge for me," Westphal told the Bee. "I'm really happy I got the job and whatever winding turns it had to take -- I don't even know all the winding turns that it took -- I'm just happy that they decided I'm the guy for them and I can't wait to get started."
Sources reiterated Wednesday that Rambis was Sacramento's top choice and would have had the job if he had been willing to accept the established terms. But the Kings' odds of luring Rambis away from L.A. with only two years guaranteed and at the salary level Westphal accepted were always long, according to Lakers sources, even if Sacramento had waited until after the Finals instead of pressing for a conclusion.
Yet another factor working against the Kings, in addition to the modest contract and the timing conflicts with the playoffs, was the widely held expectation in Lakers circles that Rambis will receive strong consideration to succeed Lakers coach Phil Jackson when the 63-year-old finally decides to end his Hall of Fame coaching career. Rambis' long association with the franchise dates to 1981-82, when he rose to prominence as a Lakers rookie with the unmistakable black glasses, and he briefly served as L.A.'s head coach in the lockout-shortened 1999 season before moving onto Jackson's staff.
Jackson's contract, paying an estimated $12 million annually, expires after the 2009-10 season. In a January interview with ESPN's Magic Johnson, Jackson revealed that Lakers owner Jerry Buss "would like me to coach longer" but said he prefers to "just do one year at a time."
Asked why the Kings were no longer willing to hold off until the Finals ended after it initially appeared that they would, Petrie told Sacramento-based reporters: "I think we gave everybody adequate time to reach some point where they could be definitive one way or the other and we weren't prepared to wait any longer."
Westphal, Rambis and Thibodeau were the finalists for the Kings' vacancy after the candidate they interviewed first -- former Kings coach Eddie Jordan -- instead took a three-year deal worth in excess of $8 million from the Philadelphia 76ers. Westphal reportedly made it clear early in the process that he was undeterred by the Kings' salary parameters in his zeal to return to head coaching. Thibodeau, meanwhile, withdrew from consideration earlier Tuesday, presumably when it became clear that he was third in a three-man race.
After interviewing with Sacramento between the conference finals and the start of the NBA Finals, Rambis urged the Kings to hold off on their decision until after L.A.'s series with Orlando so he could give the Lakers his full focus. But the 47-day search unexpectedly reached a sudden climax when sources say the Kings gave Rambis one last chance to accept their pitch before confirming to his camp that they were no longer willing to wait.
Westphal hasn't been a head coach in the NBA since being fired early in the 2000-01 season in Seattle but served as the lead assistant to Avery Johnson in Johnson's final season in Dallas in 2007-08. Westphal served this season as the Mavericks' executive vice president, but that was essentially a consulting job away from the team.
Sources say Westphal's deal with the Kings is incentive-laden based on the team's win total.
Sacramento had the league's worst record this season at 17-65, costing Reggie Theus his job in mid-December after 1½ seasons as coach, with the Kings at 6-18. Interim replacement Kenny Natt posted a record of 11-47.
Westphal -- Sacramento's fourth coach since the end of Rick Adelman's eight-season run after the 2005-06 season -- reached the NBA Finals twice as a player and once as a coach.
In Charles Barkley's first season in the desert in 1992-93 and Westphal's first as a head coach, Phoenix went 62-20, won a first-round series against the Lakers in five games after falling behind 2-0 -- with Westphal famously guaranteeing the Suns' comeback after they lost the first two games at home -- and finally lost the championship to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in six games.
Phoenix made the playoffs two more times before the club dismissed him during the 1995-96 season. He took over the Sonics in 1998, reaching the playoffs in 2000 before getting fired 15 games into the following season. Westphal then moved to the college game at Pepperdine before returning to the NBA, first as a broadcaster and then with the Mavericks.
Westphal's hiring leaves Minnesota as the only team in the league with an unresolved coaching situation. New Wolves president David Kahn and incumbent coach Kevin McHale have met three times but have not yet concluded whether McHale will return to the bench next season.
After working for years on a season-to-season handshake agreement with Wolves owner Glen Taylor, McHale is said to be seeking a multiyear deal before committing to a return. Taylor's preference, sources maintain, is to bring McHale back for next season and then re-evaluate.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.