Although Paul Westphal has been a college coach, a basketball executive and a broadcaster over the past nine years, he always looked for the right spot to get back into the NBA in a head coaching job.
He believes he found it on the ground floor with the Sacramento Kings, who can't go any lower than they finished this spring.
"I feel like because of the way the last few seasons have gone, this is a clean slate," Westphal said Friday. "The ability to build a team with not having to make compromises [makes it] just an exciting time to join the Kings."
The Kings formally introduced Westphal as their fourth new head coach in just over three years at Arco Arena. Top basketball executive Geoff Petrie hopes the former Phoenix and Seattle coach can help repair the damage done to a franchise that had eight consecutive winning seasons and playoff appearances until 2006, when owners Joe and Gavin Maloof fired coach Rick Adelman.
Sacramento has steadily sunk to the bottom of the NBA since then, finishing the current season at 17-65. The Kings fired coach Reggie Theus in December, and interim coach Kenny Natt had no shot of keeping the job after their staggering finish.
"I think you will find [Westphal] to be very discerning and very committed as a coach," Petrie said. "We are all looking forward to working together and getting us all back on track. ... He's been associated with winning, [and] I think he understands the challenges of the job that we have with our team. He was enthusiastic when we first talked to him about the job, and now he's got the job."
The Kings' steady decline and uncertain future, given their inability to strike a deal for a new arena in Sacramento, didn't scare Westphal. Starting as an assistant in Phoenix, the former first-round NBA draft pick played a large role in the Suns' comeback from the woes of a drug scandal all the way to the Western Conference title in 1992-93, his first year as a head coach.
Westphal also realizes the untapped potential in the Kings' famously loyal fan base, which has been a faint echo of its former cowbell-ringing self during the past two seasons.
"I've brought teams into Sacramento, and I know what it's like when this place rocks," said Westphal, who went 267-159 during parts of seven seasons with the Suns and Sonics. "I know there is a desire and ability within the organization to make it rock around here again, and I want to be a part of that. I think that obviously there's a lot of room for improvement in a lot of areas, but I see a lot of potential here, and I see a lot of desire here to succeed."
The Kings finished last season with the worst record in the history of a franchise that traces its lineage back to the Rochester Royals of the 1940s. Sacramento also traded away a large chunk of its best players during the season, including former All-Star center Brad Miller, to clear space for the rebuilding process.
But Sacramento couldn't even win in the draft lottery, falling to the No. 4 slot last month after having the best shot at the No. 1 pick. Westphal's first team is likely to be built around Kevin Martin, the skinny shooting guard who played in just 51 games last season while nursing an ankle injury.
"I think this is a great hire, but I also think it's finally time for us players to realize and step up," Martin said. "We have to take 100 percent accountability. I'm excited about playing for this coach. I think he's going to raise our success level a little bit, but we are the ones that have got to be ready."
One of Westphal's former players even showed up at the news conference announcing his hiring: Kevin Johnson, the former Suns point guard who's now the mayor of Sacramento.
Westphal has been fired twice despite his impressive overall NBA record, but he never gave up on getting another shot. He coached at Pepperdine for five seasons before joining the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, serving as an assistant coach for one season before becoming an executive last year.
"I've never really been out of work, but when you're looking to get back in (to head coaching), you look for a fit," Westphal said. "Everybody doesn't fit every job. So along the way, I was keeping my eyes open, but the right fit for an NBA head coaching job hasn't come up recently. I have a lot of experience and bring something to the right situation, and that's what came together on this one."