Westphal offered to quit

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, November 16, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Payton intercedes after Sonics coach told players he would resign during ugly locker room scene following loss in Orlando


Herald Writer

SEATTLE — Four games, three losses and one huge argument into this young NBA season, the Seattle SuperSonics had reached a crossroads.

And in a moment of utter frustration, Sonics coach Paul Westphal offered to go one route and let his team take the other.

On Thursday, Westphal revealed that an ugly locker room blowup on Seattle’s recent East Coast road trip led him to offer his resignation — not to team president Wally Walker, but to the Sonics players.

"I was serious," Westphal said. "That’s what I felt I needed to do right then. I was serious as a heart attack."

It happened Nov. 6 in Orlando, moments after the Sonics had opened their five-game road swing with a disappointing 110-99 loss to the Magic. In the locker room immediately after the game, Seattle’s Gary Payton went into a verbal tirade. In loud, angry remarks, Payton criticized the lackluster efforts and contributions of some teammates.

A few of the other players fired back with heated comments of their own, and some of the retorts took aim at Westphal.

Stung by those words, and with no forethought, Westphal promptly offered to resign.

"Obviously, I was taken aback enough to make the offer," he said. "If I’m the problem, then I’ll get out. I told them to have a meeting and to let me know.

"At that point," Westphal said, "I was ready to walk out the door."

Westphal’s statement took everyone by surprise. "It was shocking," said Sonics assistant coach Dwane Casey.

What followed was almost as remarkable as Westphal’s suggested exit. Payton, one of the most volatile players in professional basketball, stood and addressed the team. Speaking more calmly, Payton’s message (according to Westphal) was essentially this: "This is our team. This is our group. We’re all in this together, and we’re not (staying together)."

Payton and Westphal have sometimes been at odds in their two-plus seasons together, just as Payton was occasionally at odds with K.C. Jones and George Karl, his two previous Seattle coaches. This season, though, Westphal believes the relationship with his All-Star guard is better than ever.

"Gary and I have worked real hard to be on the same page this year," Westphal said. "When things come up, we’ve communicated real directly about them. It’s been very satisfactory. Certainly, when we’re in the midst of going 2-6 neither one of us is very happy, but the communication has been good."

After Thursday’s workout, Payton reiterated his plea for oneness. "We all need to be together," he said. "If we lose, we lose together." Of Westphal, Payton added, "As long as he’s here, he’s my coach and I’m going to try to get him wins."

Neither is Payton keen on talk of a possible coaching change, despite the team’s slow start. "It’s too damn early for all that," he said. "If we don’t start jelling, then next month (people) can talk about all that. But (Walker) will do all that, not (the players)."

The irony of the incident is that there was no immediate Seattle turnabout. The Sonics went on to Miami, where they dropped an 87-81 decision to the Heat two nights later. Seattle won at Charlotte the next night, but closed the trip with a 35-point loss at New Jersey on Saturday and a nine-point defeat at Detroit on Sunday.

Still, Westphal said Thursday, the episode seemed to galvanize the team. The Sonics returned home to face New York on Tuesday and had their best outing of the season, routing the Knicks 96-75 to raise their record to 3-6. The practices this week have been energetic and harmonious, and the entire stretch of days has renewed Westphal’s belief in his ballclub.

"I believe this team is going to (succeed) because they decided to be together," Westphal said. "That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game and not look bad sometimes, but I believe there’s a good unity that will let the team come up to its potential."

Westphal was initially reluctant to talk about what happened in Orlando, but decided that "it’s probably not a bad thing to have out there." The notion of a resignation, he went on, "is what you need to do if you’re faced with a circumstance where it seems like guys don’t want to listen. If a team is not going to listen, then get somebody they’ll listen to.

"If I don’t feel we’re on the same page, there’s no reason to continue," Westphal said. "This team is too good not to be on the same page as the coach."

On Thursday, Westphal could occasionally smile and joke about the incident. NBA coaching, he suggested, is never static duty. There are great rewards and satisfactions, just as there are agonizing periods of disappointment and distress.

"I know what this business is all about," he said. "I know there are going to be ups and downs. It makes it fun and it makes it hard sometimes.

"But I like these guys. I like their competitiveness. I like the way they pulled together against the Knicks after a terrible road trip. I’m optimistic that we’re going to continue to improve. And that’s really where we’re at right now. I’m not predicting any championships. We have one good game in a row. Let’s have two good games in a row and see if we can build on that."

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade past Gig Harbor

The pair combine for three homers as the Bruins win the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

Jacob Rohde surveys the area at Everett Golf & Country Club during last year’s final round of the Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament. The three-time champion is among this year’s favorites. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
It’s out with the old, in with the new at the County Am

The 93rd Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament takes place Saturday through Monday.

Stanwood’s Chisman, Jackson’s Park claim state golf titles

Conrad Chisman wins the Class 3A boys championship, Chanyoung Park wins the Class 4A girls title.

Seahawks learning new systems as OTAs get underway

New coach Mike Macdonald is using the start of offseason workouts to install his defense, offense.

Edmonds-Woodway comes together for a mound visit during early trouble against Mountlake Terrace in the Class 3A District 1 baseball championship Saturday, May 11, 2024, at Funko Field in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
E-W faces tall task in 3A state baseball semifinals

The Warriors will likely have to solve Mount Vernon star Xavier Neyens to advance to the title game.

Shorewood’s Rylie Gettmann is one of the favorites in Class 3A girls singles at the state tennis tournaments, which happen at various locations this weekend. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2024 state boys and girls tennis preview

Jackson’s Ben Lee and Shorewood’s Rylie Gettmann are among the top local contenders.

Jackson pitcher Yanina Sherwood is hoping to lead the Timberwolves to their second straight Class 4A softball state championship. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 state softball preview

Here’s a capsule look at the nine local teams that qualified in Class 4A, 3A and 1B.

Glacier Peak’s Mateo Ganje crosses the finish line in the Boys 4x100 during the Eason Invitational at Snohomish High School on Saturday, April 20, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 state track and field preview

Here’s the list of local state qualifiers with top-10 marks in their classification.

NWAC notebook: EvCC’s Gilbert excels at track championships

Plus how locals fared in tennis and softball. Baseball begins Thursday.

Everett High School’s Shukurani Ndayiragije is a contender to win all three jumping events at the Class 3A state boys track and field meet. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Power rankings: Who has the best shot at prep state titles?

Ranking the local athletes and teams who have the best chance during this weekend’s state events.

Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for May 13-19

The Athlete of the Week nominees for May 13-19. Voting closes at… Continue reading

Mountlake Terrace players react to a run during a baseball game between Mountlake Terrace and Bishop Blanchet at Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Washington on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Mountlake Terrace won, 12-7.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Mountlake Terrace baseball’s season ends in state quarters

The Hawks beat Bishop Blanchet 12-7 in the morning, but fall 10-9 to West Seattle in the afternoon.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.