The Timberwolves’ coaching search began last week shortly after David Kahn relieved Kurt Rambis of his duties and to say it’s going swimmingly would be a bold understatement. There are actually some palatably terrific names on the docket that have already interviewed with another Hall of Fame coach in the wake.
To get you caught up on Kahn’s search, here is a list of the coaches that have been linked to the Wolves in some sort of way — an actual interview or even just a rumor — in the past few weeks.
Terry Porter: Porter was the first to interview for the job a last week, which should come as a surprise to no one. Porter has a rapport with the Timberwolves’ organization and should be popular amongst the fans.
Although Porter is a former T-Wolf and has experience in the driver’s seat of an NBA sideline, he wasn’t the top dog given his past for many fans. Once the news broke of Rambis’ ousting, former player, Sam Mitchell, had his name sprout up in every day conversations. Mitchell won the Coach of the Year award in 2007 by turning around a putrid Toronto Raptors team into a playoff contender, but then quickly faded into the dust.
Whether Mitchell is interested in the job or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Porter may be the team’s next former-player-turned-coach. Porter started his coaching career in Milwaukee. He was there for two seasons and went 71-93 before being fired in 2005. It wasn’t long before Porter snapped up the head job in Phoenix in 2008 but his luck didn’t take a turn since Milwaukee and he found his way out the door after 51 games, winning 28 of them.
So although Porter’s coaching record may be down, he’s never had a full opportunity to showcase his leadership abilities. In Minnesota, Porter would have the ability to mentor a young, talented bunch into a faster-paced, offensive-oriented game. He’s a highly respected man in the NBA and would certainly make a difference in the current inexperienced culture in the Timberwolves’ locker room.
Mike Woodson: Woodson’s name has been all over the place this summer. Just about any team with a head coaching vacancy, Woodson has been rumored to be a contender. It’s no different here in Minnesota, and rightfully so.
Woodson is known as the coach who turned the Atlanta Hawks around. Before the current day Hawks who have trouble missing out on the top 4 in the Eastern Conference, the old Hawks — From 1999-2007 — were just pitiful and were struggling staying afloat financially. They hired Mike Woodson with the future in mind and he hung in there to the best of his abilities. Once Atlanta’s front office nailed down players like Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Hawks turned their losing ways around and made the playoffs for three straight seasons. After a second round series dropped to the Orlando Magic, the Hawks announced that they would not resign Woodson for the 2010-2011 season.
And here we are. Woodson’s devotion toward changing Atlanta’s losing atmosphere showed his true passion as an NBA coach. Not to mention some serious adversity. Woodson would need the same mentality if he were to come to Minnesota. He’d have a similar situation in Atlanta where he’d have the talent to work with but would need the time and support from the front office to turn Minnesota’s ship around.
Bernie Bickerstaff: Even when Rambis was still the coach, the hottest rumor on the stove was the opportunity of bringing in Bernie to reunite him with his son, J.B., who was an assistant here under Rambis. It was a classic NCAA football “Coach-in-waiting” situation. Those never work out, to put it nicely, and neither did the Wolves’ dream. J.B. bolted for a job on the Houston Rockets’ bench under Kevin McHale. But that didn’t put the Wolves’ interest in Bernie to an end.
Although the dream of Bernie mentoring his son in the art of coaching for a few years and having him take his place at a later date didn’t last, Bernie can still be a valuable coach for the Timberwolves. He ranks 33rd in the NBA in all-time wins with a record of 414-512, coaching for an array of teams such as the Seattle SuperSonics, Denver Nuggets, Washington Bullets/Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats, his last head coaching gig.
The experience is certainly there but a fair question to ask is: Without J.B. in the shadows, is bringing Bernie in worth the investment?
Rick Adelman: Adelman should be considered the prize of this ongoing search for a coach. After not agreeing to a new contract with the Houston Rockets, he left H-town after four seasons and 183 wins, but his legacy was constructed long before that.
Adelman has an illustrious coaching career, having coached some of basketball’s most impressive teams in recent history. It started in Portland, where Adelman was graced by Clyde Drexler’s on-court presence in his first head coaching gig. It continued on with the glory days in Sacramento, led by Chris Webber, Jason Williams and Vlade Divac.
The Sacramento days is what Kahn ought to pay close attention to when assessing Adelman’s comfortability in Minnesota. A lot of the pieces that Adelman had in Sacramento are here in Minnesota. It starts with the point guard, Ricky Rubio. Rubio possesses special abilities to open the court and find his teammates; just the way Jason Williams did in his heyday, utilizing his flash and glam to keep the crowd on their toes. Wes Johnson reminds me a little of Doug Christie in his deep range and quick trigger. And Derrick Williams has the ability to play an inside-out game such as Chris Webber, with even a little more finesse.
Some of the pieces are there and the Timberwolves’ roster obviously goes much deeper than those mentioned already. Kevin Love, although not a solid comparison to anybody on the old Kings team, already has a special relationship with Adelman. Love and Adelman’s son attended the same high school and were good buddies. Because of that, Adelman has been openly fond of Love’s talent and accomplishments so far in the league.
Even though the match seems like it was made in heaven, it’s not quite at that point just yet, at least in Adelman’s mind. Actually, Wolves fans should be grateful to hear the Adelman even spoke with Kahn via phone on Saturday. Typically with a coach of Adelman’s caliber, once they hit a certain age — Adelman’s already 65-years old — a front office job, something less stressful, would seem to be perfect. Or even a coaching job for a veteran-based squad would be ideal. But a coaching job for the youngest team in the league, despite the talent and potential, is a big and risky step for any veteran coach in the league.
With that said, Wolves players, fans and Kahn alike should be praying Adelman’s “interest” in the job is substantial. If it is, the Wolves may have landed the big one.
Don Nelson: It shouldn’t be surprising to hear about Don Nelson’s interest in the job. After all, his daughter and grandchildren live in Minnetonka. But the real reason is Nelson can’t get enough of young, fast and immature rosters.
Nelson dealt with a similar situation to the Timberwolves in Golden State, his last head coaching gig in 2010. His first two seasons in Oakland went well, making the playoffs in his first season, thanks to a solid season from Baron Davis and Jason Richardson. But then the downhill slide sloped ever so slightly and Nelson couldn’t prevent the fall. Heated conversations between Nelson and the front office led to confrontations between Nelson and the players, including a tiff with current Timberwolf, Anthony Randolph.
Whether Nelson is willing to part with having total control over all team operations remains to be seen, but there’s no denying Nelson’s coaching ability. He’s one of the league’s best coaches in history and has won Coach of the Year on three separate occasions. The Wolves would be honored to have Nelson pace their sideline as long as his ego doesn’t get in the way. His job here would be to teach the game to these youngsters, not change who they are. Also, the Wolves may need a few more years to prove competitive within the league. Could Don Nelsons age, 71, be a problem in the future?
Larry Brown: Brown is next up to interview for the Timberwolves. There’s an obvious trend going on here. Aside from the first two interviewees, Terry Porter and Mike Woodson, all other candidates are 60-years old or older.
Kahn is looking for experience, a perennial winner. After gambling and missing on a younger, less experienced coach in Rambis, Kahn needs to go with a sure-thing, thus the reason to call in three or more Hall of Fame coaches.
Brown, unlike Nelson, has a championship under his coaching accolades. He also won Coach of the Year in 2001 with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown likely wouldn’t race the tempo as much as Kahn would prefer, but he would be able to settle these players down and teach them the game properly.
The biggest question around Brown, aside from his age, 70, is indeed his ability to handle younger players. In Brown’s last coaching stint in Charlotte, he struggled to manage younger players’ attitudes and egos, specifically Tyrus Thomas. Brown seemed to lose patience with young, struggling players and grew impatient with their slower learning curve. That would be a major problem in Minnesota given the state of such a young roster.