Photo: Wikimedia Commons
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves fired Kurt Rambis on Tuesday, ending more than three months of uncertainty and awkwardness surrounding the head coach of the worst team in the NBA last season.Rambis was 32-132 in his brief stay in Minnesota, including 17-65 this past season.
“I want to thank Kurt for his contributions to our franchise and wish him the best in his future endeavours,” Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in a statement issued by the team. “His arrival signaled we were serious about building a championship-contending ballclub over the course of time. We have accumulated a solid nucleus of young talent with a bright future during the last two years. I am hopeful Kurt receives his share of the credit for helping develop that talent and his contributions are not forgotten as we become a better basketball team.”
Kahn hired Rambis in 2009 to turn around one of the league’s struggling franchises. But the Wolves won just two more games this year than they did in his first season, and Kahn felt compelled to cut ties with the first coach he hand-picked to help him rebuild the Wolves.
Rambis asked for a four-year contract to leave his prime job as Phil Jackson’s top assistant with the Lakers. That means owner Glen Taylor will be on the hook for the final two years of that deal while he and Kahn look for a new coach to work with the youngest team in the NBA. The move could prove even more costly if the lockout wipes games off the schedule next season.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has given me,” Rambis said in a statement given to The Associated Press. “During my years working with coaches Jackson, (Pat) Riley and (Cotton) Fitzsimmons, I learned all about the ups and downs of this sport. And today is one of the down days.
“But I’m confident that my work — and the work of my staff — with our many young players over the last two years will begin to pay off for Mr. Taylor and Timberwolves fans. Now, as important new players are added to the mix, the future of this franchise should be a bright one, and I am thankful for the chance I had, to play a part in shaping that future.”
The Timberwolves tied their franchise low with 15 victories in 2009-10, but both Kahn and Rambis said after their first season in charge that they were focused more on positioning the franchise to be competitive financially than they were about being competitive on the court.
They were successful on that end, clearing massive cap space and acquiring first-round draft picks in hopes that they would capitalise on those assets to build a strong foundation.
Rambis watched Kahn turn over the roster substantially for the second straight offseason to set up this year, making the Timberwolves much more athletic, but also much younger and less experienced. The pups struggled all season to mesh on the court and grasp Rambis’ complex schemes.
Kevin Love blossomed into an All-Star and Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic also showed flashes of the potential that made them top draft picks. But the Wolves were making the same mistakes — too many turnovers, poor perimeter defence, inconsistent ball movement — at the end of the season that they were at the beginning. They lost their last 15 games.
“This is two years in a row where, for whatever reason, the team didn’t improve as the season went on,” Kahn said on the final day of the season. “And I think you can make a fair argument, not to say that it’s the only argument, that a young team should probably show even more improvement as the season winds down as opposed to an older team.”
The Timberwolves were competitive early in the season, but that waned as the long season wore on, and the relationship between Rambis and Kahn appeared to deteriorate as well.
Kahn met with Rambis in February and set some unspecified goals for the second half of the season, but Rambis called those goals “unrealistic.”
“The talent level is here, but you don’t have the sort of turmoil that we’ve had in terms of the disruptive factor from the number of new guys we added last year to the number of new guys we added this year,” Rambis said on the last day of the season. “In a lot of ways, that’s what an expansion franchise does.”
Now, in some ways, the Timberwolves are back to square one — looking for the kind of leader who can mould this young and disenchanted team into a playoff contender in the powerful Western Conference.
Since Flip Saunders was fired six years ago, the Wolves have changed coaches five times, with Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman and now Rambis all taking their turns trying to get this team back on track.
In a telling sign of the instability, Rambis’ 164 games coached are tied with Bill Musselman (1989-91) for the second-most in franchise history. Only Saunders (737) has coached more games on the Wolves bench.
As Kahn waited and waited to make a decision on Rambis, the situation grew more awkward.
Rambis showed up at several pre-draft workouts to watch prospects, but was not in the draft room the night the Timberwolves selected Derrick Williams with the No. 2 pick. He also was not present during Ricky Rubio’s introduction, forcing the players to have to answer questions about the uncertainty with the head coach.
The Oregonian reported on Monday that the Portland Trail Blazers have granted permission for assistant Bernie Bickerstaff to speak with the Wolves about the position, which happened before Rambis was officially fired.
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