Paul Westphal doesn't want to be anywhere else, and that's a huge part of this. He gives his heart, his soul, even his best sales pitch for the Kings. He desperately wants to be around when the team returns to the playoffs, when Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins mature, when Jimmer Fredette converts the skeptics, when that shovel is thrust into the ground for a new sports and entertainment complex.
Transforming the Kings was supposed to be his job. Instead, it's become his cause.
"I think I'm a pragmatic person," Westphal said, "but I also have a romantic streak, and I'm really rooting for this city, this franchise and this team to climb out of that hole that we've been in. I see that happening, and it's a really good feeling. I don't want to let go."
The feeling within the organization is mutual. The Maloofs and Geoff Petrie absolutely love the guy. They don't want him going anywhere.
But Westphal, whose contract expires at the end of the season, doesn't need to be hit over the head with a sneaker; coaches get extensions when their teams make the playoffs and/or show dramatic improvement; in his first two seasons, the Kings have won 25 and 24 games. Additionally, the insidious one-on-one style which, rumor has it, has dented the floor at Power Balance Pavilion has been awful to watch.
So here comes Westphal, after all the craziness, returning with a new beard and the same irrepressible attitude, promising that these Kings will not be those Kings, that all that nonsense has gone the way of Anaheim.
Sure, there will be lapses, times when the ball sticks to palms and the extra pass fails to materialize. Some nights the tempo will be sluggish and work better than Ambien for late-night viewers. And the defensive commitment? That's why couples go to marriage counseling, right? Togetherness requires work and sacrifice.
"There is more than one way to win in this league," Westphal said. "We're building this team around whoever steps forward to lead it, and we're hoping that it's those guys (Evans and Cousins) among others, because this is a team game. And if you're going to be playing against the so-called superteams, you can beat them with beautiful, intricate, unselfish basketball. The Knicks proved that 40 years ago."
This doesn't appear to be your typical coach-speak, by the way. Westphal discussed the topic extensively with Petrie, with his assistants and with the Maloofs, and during the offseason he pressed for a more balanced roster. He had considerable input into the drafting of Fredette, the offseason acquisitions of John Salmons and J.J. Hickson, the re-signing of Marcus Thornton, as well as decisions regarding free agents Samuel Dalembert and Chuck Hayes, the former Houston Rockets forward/center whose sudden departure and equally sudden return will require additional on-the-fly adjustments.
Nonetheless, as assistant Jim Eyen observed, "Paul is great with people. One of his strengths is that he stays positive, which is really important with a young team."
Actually, Westphal's upbeat attitude has provided a boost for the entire community. Throughout the turbulent spring and into the offseason, he remained emotionally invested in Sacramento; he never wanted to leave.
He blew kisses to the fans after the Lakers game last April, then broke down in the interview room. A native of large-market L.A., he has attended arena rallies and numerous season ticket sales meet-and-greets, held Basketball 101 sessions for fans and made phone calls on behalf of his small-market club.
"When I signed on, I knew we were at the bottom," Westphal said. "Couple in the economy, the need for a building, the fact the city has problems, the bottom line on the problems of running a franchise and we're challenged on the floor.
"But you have to climb out a bit at a time, and I can see that happening. I see that happening on the court. I see that happening with management's ability to make decisions that aren't solely based on finances. And I see that with the city, tenaciously fighting to keep this team, because it does matter."
As for his future, he added: "We're all passing through this league, trying to last as long as we can. I don't worry about it (an extension). The Maloofs stuck with me last year when people were saying, 'The Kings have to make a change.' Whatever they decide down the line is fine. But I feel strongly that we're going in the right direction and that we're going to (again) win playoff games here."
You hope he's right, you really do.
Some things you don't forget.