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Why Be An NBA Coach?

Following the recent firing of Kings head coach Paul Westphal, CK contributor Rob McAllister wonders: is coaching in the NBA really worth the trouble?

It still amazes me how many people aspire to be an NBA head coach.

Maybe Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski has it figured out. With 911 collegiate wins, Coach K could have any job in the league – all he has to do is make a call.

That phone however, will never leave the cradle. You will never hear the dial tone. The rings will never even have a chance.

Even from 2,769 miles away, it is clear, the NCAA Men’s all-time winningest coach prefers men he can mold than those who deposit millions into the bank. The egos are larger, the rosters are never truly yours and owners ultimately control what you can and can’t do. Why put yourself through that? For a fancier plane ride and nicer hotel stays?

Paul Westphal is the latest example of how a coach never really has any authority inside an NBA locker room. Typically it comes down to whether the best player or biggest ego on the team likes you. If so, more times than not, you will have success.

Tyreke Evans is not outspoken enough to command a team. Jimmer Fredette is too nice. And Chuck Hayes is not an All-Star. Thus leaving DeMarcus Cousins.

The second year big man from Kentucky had run-ins with coaches during his rookie year and according to the recently departed Westphal, “demanded to be traded” this season. That spurred the man who led the Suns to the 1993 Finals, to send employee no. 15 home for the New Orleans Hornets game on New Year’s Day.

Fines typically characterize disciplinary action in the NBA. How Westphal went through the media in an attempt to stop Cousins’ tirades was far from perfect, but was there any other way?

The fines and scoldings behind closed doors apparently did nothing to nudge the Kings center in the right direction. Money is a motivator for most NBA players, but late last year, a $41,000 hit to his bank account did little to change Cousins’ mopey expressions. So, when it occurred again this season, Westphal went to the last choice on a list of bad options.

The media.

“When a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely…” Westphal wrote.

This message called out Cousins in public, and in doing so, Westphal likely bolted the last screw in a wooden plank that spans the open ocean. Walking off it was only inevitable, as other players could see their teammate was uncontrollable, setting a bad precedent for Westphal. Who needs to really listen to a coach who can’t instill authority over a 21-year-old?

If this is what DeMarcus Cousins truly wanted, then he is the winner. Although, it is rare for a coach to ever claim victory in these battles, ex-Golden State Warriors Head Coach, P.J. Carlesimo might have been the last and only coach ever chosen over a player amidst daunting circumstances.

Many of us remember the 1997 drama as the “Choking Incident” after Latrell Sprewell grabbed hold of the Golden State coach’s neck and allegedly yelled “I am going to kill you.” Management then attempted to void Spree’s contract.

So Keith Smart will try to do what Westphal couldn’t. Make nice with the big egos, er, stars on this Kings team. The former Indiana Hoosier, who once hit the game winner in the 1987 NCAA Championship (Indiana 74-73 win over Syracuse), will try to sink another big shot in his career. Smart will take a different approach, one that he hopes can unite a young and impressionable squad.

“My team is not a family yet,” Smart said after the Kings beat the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100. “They’re a bunch of players that come to work every day. We got to get them to grow and be a family together.”

The new Kings coach appears to be ripping a page straight from Mike Krzyzewski’s book of life. Coach K once said, “A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on “x’s and o’s” as compared to time spent learning about people.”

If Smart can bond with this team, he may just find himself building a bridge to success instead of a plank.

Special contributor Rob McAllister is a news reporter for KFBK Radio in Sacramento.  You can follow him on Twitter.

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