If the Sacramento Kings stood any chance at success this season, Paul Westphal had to find a way to control talented but volatile center DeMarcus Cousins.
He couldn't — and lost his job because of it.
The Kings fired Westphal on Thursday after two-plus seasons as coach, cutting ties amid a slow start and an escalating dispute with Cousins that threatened to consume the locker room. Assistant Keith Smart, let go by the Golden State Warriors in April after one season at the helm, signed a deal to become the team's new head coach.
With the Cousins-Westphal spat showing no resolution, Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof finally decided to take action. Instead of trading away the promising young big man from Kentucky, they made Westphal the first firing of the lockout-shortened season.
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"We're in a situation here where you can't take a philosophical vacation because things are happening in real time," Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie said. "You start to keep seeing the same things over and over again, you can't sit around and meditate forever about how you're going to approach them or try and change them."
A young Sacramento team entered Thursday night's game against Milwaukee with a 2-5 record and in last place in the Pacific Division. Westphal finished with a 51-120 record in Sacramento.
The 61-year-old previously coached the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics. In a statement released by the team, Westphal thanked the Maloofs, his coaching staff and players for the opportunity.
"While the job is far from finished, I am proud of the strides we were able to make," he said.
Cousins expressed remorse for Westphal and said he would soon reach out to his former coach.
"It's been an emotional week and a lot of misunderstandings," Cousins said. "But it comes with the territory. Coach Westphal was a great teacher to a lot of us and a good coach. But this was a management decision.
"Of course people are going to tie (Westphal's firing) to me. It will just show their ignorance. But like I said, it's not my decision."
Asked how he would approach Cousins differently after watching Westphal's relationship with the center go sour, Smart smiled and said, "Probably have a good relationship with him."
Hayes dislocates shoulder
Sacramento Kings big man Chuck Hayes has dislocated his left shoulder and will be out indefinitely.
Hayes extended his left arm and fouled Milwaukee center Drew Gooden in the second quarter Thursday night. His arm seemed to get tangled with Gooden and his shoulder popped out.