Westphal tired of coddling

  • FRANK HUGHES / News Tribune
  • Monday, November 20, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


News Tribune

No more Mr. Nice Guy for Seattle SuperSonics coach Paul Westphal.

No longer is he willing to cater to hurt feelings, big reputations or bad relationships. With the Sonics struggling to a 4-7 record and Westphal’s job a constant source of conversation around the league, he has decided to go with the best players on the court at the time.

"I am more worried about matchups than giving guys minutes," Westphal said after the Sonics’ practice at Loyola Marymount University on Monday as the team prepared for tonight’s contest in Dallas with the Mavericks. Seattle stayed in the Los Angeles area for two days after playing the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Although Westphal won’t say it publicly, there is no question he is displeased with the play — once again — of Vin Baker.

In a loss to Dallas last week, Westphal put Baker and Patrick Ewing in the game with less than seven minutes remaining — primarily because they are the team’s starters — and the Sonics holding a 10-point lead. Although Baker had not played well, Westphal did not want to risk hurting the feelings of the sensitive Baker.

As it turned out, the Sonics blew the lead and lost the game.

"That was kind of the last straw," Westphal said.

Against the Clippers on Saturday night, Baker once again was not playing well, and Westphal yanked him four minutes into the second half and didn’t play him again. He said it was because Baker was not moving well — and, indeed, Baker missed practice Tuesday with a sore hip — but after the game, Baker said he felt fine.

Westphal hasn’t spoken with Baker about the events.

"I have an open door policy," Westphal said. "I assume everything is fine."

But it is clear that Baker will not be given preferential treatment any longer. In addition to showing signs of last season’s malaise, he has not displayed any of the quickness he had in the preseason. He has also been ineffective defensively.

"We’re too slow sometimes, and we’re not going to have that be a problem anymore," Westphal said. "When we are effective, it starts with the defense. And the only way it can be really good is when we are quick enough."

Although only Baker and the team’s trainer know, Baker looks as if he has regained some of the weight he lost over the summer. Part of the problem is that he has an injured left knee, and on off-days he has been unable to practice.

Baker also doesn’t have the lift in his jump he had earlier in the season.

"The No. 1 thing we have to do is we have to get wins," Westphal said. "And we obviously started out the season not getting the wins. It’s become apparent that the nights we are not quicker defensively than the other guys are the nights we struggle the most. We are going to find a way to have the quickness on the floor.

"If we are going to get beat, we are not going to get beat the same way over and over. I feel like I’ve given us a chance to function, giving away some matchups, and we have not functioned well. So I am not going to beat my head against the same wall."

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