Moving Forward: The End of the Rambis Era

Let’s start this by wishing Kurt Rambis farewell. He always seemed to be a nice enough guy who just happened to be playing checkers while everyone else was playing chess.

To be fair, the T-Wolves’ struggles weren’t entirely Rambis’ fault. He inherited a very bad team when he took over. The following season, that team’s personel went from very bad to very young and injured.

But he wouldn’t give up on that damn Triangle offense, even while it clearly wasn’t working. He was so obstinate about that particular set that it really seemed like he didn’t know any others to run. I’m sure he does, of course. (I hope.) So if we are going to celebrate the coaching change, let’s celebrate the exodus of the Triangle. Thank goodness. That evil offensive set has been banished back to the hell it came from. (You know, Los Angeles.)

Now David Kahn is faced with the unenviable task of finding a replacement.

Despite their lack of success in recent years, Minnesota’s roster should be surprisingly attractive to potential coaches. Their best player is a likable young star in Kevin Love. Their incoming rookies are both potential stars, Rubio and Williams. Their record last year was so bad that, barring some horrible injuries, a new coach seemingly could only improve record-wise (as I knock furiously on every piece of wood within reach.)

The problem, of course, is that Kurt Rambis has been dragged through the mud over the past few months, and many experts are wondering if any sane coach will want to work for a boss like Kahn.

Don Nelson, coach of the Golden State Warriors for roughly 250,000 seasons, reportedly is one coach unfazed by the exit wounds inflicted upon Rambis, and he seems like a strangely logical candidate, considering that Kahn wants Minnesota to play faster. This proposed strategy hasn’t been incredibly popular, as critics point out that Minnesota already plays very uptempo, and they proved last year that they don’t have the veteran leadership to pull it off. But the numbers are a bit deceptive, as pointed out by the intelligent men from A Wolf Among Wolves. Last year, the T-Wolves were first (or is it last? Whichever means “they were awful”) in turnovers and second in field goals attempted, while being 27th in field goal percentage.

Boiled down? The young Wolves turned the ball over way too much and took a lot of bad shots, pushing their possessions per game through the roof.

These numbers will improve considerably if Ricky Rubio proves himself to be a competent starting point guard. The two most-used point guards on the Timberwolves roster (Flynn and Ridnour) had an assist to turnover ratio of 13/7. That’s a decent amount of assists….and a rather incredible amount of turnovers. Ricky? All we are asking from you is competence at first; we aren’t asking you to be a savior. (Though if you feel like, you know, saving and stuff…that would be pretty cool too.)

But something needs to be done about that defense (30th in the NBA in opponents points per game, and 27th in points per 100 possessions), and Don Nelson is probably not the coach to do it. In his last four seasons with Golden State, the Warriors were last in opponent points per game every single year. Guys? We saw what that looked like last year, and it looked like 17-65. Not a lot of fun.

That being said, I don’t necessarily disagree with Kahn that Minnesota needs to run on offense. Rubio is rather famously an open-court style point guard. Beasley, Johnson, Randolph, and Williams are all fast and very athletic. Kevin Love might be the best rebounder/outlet passer since Wes Unseld. This team is pretty clearly built to move fast.

So how should they balance the two, from a coaching standpoint? According to SI’s Chris Mannix, my suggestion isn’t being considered. (How typical?) To the surprise of no one who knows me: I present Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank.

For starters: in case you forgot, the last Celtics assistant coach who went on to become a head coach was this year’s Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. If Frank came to the Timberwolves he wouldn’t have the star power of Derrick Rose that Thibodeau had to work with, but he would have arguably more talented pieces.

Frank spent the last season working with Doc Rivers, a mastermind of egos, rotations, NBA defenses, and plays out of a timeout. Frank himself knows NBA defenses; his first three years as an NBA head coach, his teams were in the top 6 in opponents PPG. And, as hard as it is to believe, the Timberwolves are actually going to have some talent next season. For the most part, with great talent comes tremendous egos, and having someone like Frank to keep things in check would be an excellent start.

The stain on Frank’s record? He was fired after the Nets started off 0-16 in their 2009-2010 campaign; a season in which, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Courtney Lee was their 3rd most productive player (seriously, go look it up), and injuries plagued them all year. But apparently, New Jersey’s players never quit on Frank, even while they were losing horribly.

From the New Jersey Star Ledger:

When a team is mired in an historic losing streak, the coach’s firing is hardly unexpected. Still, the Nets claimed they had not quit on Frank, who had a career 225-241 record, and he was largely a victim of injuries that had the team playing with as few as eight players some nights.

“I’m sure they’d like to fire some of the players if they could, but they did the easy thing and fired the coach,” Rafer Alston said. “We didn’t get it done. I take full responsibility for some of the games. The coach can’t put on the uniform and chase down the rebounds. We had to do it and didn’t get it done.”

Obviously, we are all hoping that the Wolves will be a much better team this year. But if they hired Lawrence Frank, it would be encouraging to know that even if they lost a lot of games, the players might stick by their coach the way New Jersey stuck by him.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to project how successful any coach will prove with a team, especially when the roster is as young as Minnesota’s. One can never really predict how a team and a coach will gel together as a unit. A coach provides the lineups, the rotations, and the plays, while the players do the performing. Only players can win games, but a coach can sure lose them.

Especially when the Triangle is involved.