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, 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.

Kahn's coaching carousel

We haven’t even started the (coaching) process yet.

That’s what David Kahn had to say during his press conference yesterday, where he finally, and so politely, relieved Kurt Rambis of his duties as the head coach here in Minnesota.

It’s sorta comical, ain’t it? But you shouldn’t expect anything less from Kahn. After all, he’s Kahn, one of the league’s most outspoken, clumsy, awkward, passive-aggressive and downright open and honest GM. Which is exactly why this Rambis situation, as baffling and unethical as it may appear from the outside, was Kahn’s doing and you couldn’t have expected it to be handled any differently. Calling coaches while Rambis was still hired, allowing the news of the firing to leak over a month before it actually happens, it’s all on Kahn.

But we have to digress; it’s time to move on, yet again, and not allow our haunted past affect our bright future. It’s time for yet another coaching search.

So let’s look at the candidates. Lorenzo Romar, Lawrence Frank, Larry Brown, Don Nelson, Bernie Bickerstaff all seem to be potential candidates. But, unfortunately, since it’s so late in the coach choosing game, names like Quin Snyder, Kelvin Sampson and even our very own, J.B. Bickerstaff, have already snatched up assistant coaching jobs elsewhere.

It’s plain and simple to see what the Wolves need in a head coach: Defense, leadership and experience. Let’s go through potential coaches and see whether or not they live up to those standards and if they’d be a good choice for Kahn and the Wolves.

Lorenzo Romar: Romar is currently the head coach for the Washington Huskies. He’s turned around what was a bad program into a viable contender each and every year in recent years. He has a knack for coaching some solid players both on and off the court. Brandon Roy, Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas come to mind, both tough players on the court with a can-do attitude paired with a sense of humility and humbleness off.

Although Romar has turned Washington into a great basketball school, you can’t ignore the fact that he’s still just a college coach. Predicting his success as he moves from college to the pros is very difficult and a jump that not many coaches make, probably for many obvious reasons. He runs a more up-tempo type of game, which is what Kahn is looking for. But still, it’s hard to disregard that he has no NBA experience, coaching wise, and isn’t a perennial winner, despite his success at Washington.

Romar will not be the next head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The fit isn’t quite there and he seems overjoyed in Washington, anyways. Especially after inking a pretty sweet deal not too long ago, guaranteeing him over $1 million a season plus bonuses.

Lawrence Frank: I’m as surprised as you are that Frank hasn’t received more calls this Summer about open head coaching spots. He’s one of the most experienced available coaches out there and has a special knack for defense. He led the New Jersey Nets to four playoff appearances out of six seasons and was fired after losing their first 16 games in 2009. But don’t let him take the blame; that team was atrocious.

Anyways, Frank is currently an assistant for the Boston Celtics, meaning he’s had a little time to learn from one of the game’s bests in Doc Rivers. His tutelage is certainly worth something, just ask Tom Thibodeau. Frank could be a great fit here for the Timberwolves. His offenses may not have run as much as Kahn hopes for in 2011-2012, but will push this team’s offense to the limits when he needs to. And after coaching Jason Kidd for those years in New Jersey, what better coach to come in and mentor Ricky Rubio?

Frank deserves another chance. Do I think he’s a world-class coach? No, but he’ll certainly bring in enough firepower, discipline and hopefully some defense to win us some games next season. Seems like a solid option when you add it all up.

Larry Brown: This one’s beyond me. At what point does a man as old as my Grandfather get sick of these young ballers’ attitudes and egos? Somehow, someway Brown keeps wanting more and more of the NBA to the point where he’ll coach to his grave as long as he has the shot.

Brown’s most recent project, the Charlotte Bobcats, never really succeeded. Charlotte made the playoffs in 2009-2010 but that’s really because they actually had a good team. And even in Brown’s hayday’s in Detroit he was given a team stacked to the brim with talent.

He certainly has the experience and the defensive schemes to make this team improve on that end, but maybe, the most important aspect, is having a relatable coach for these young players that will help them grow. We all saw what Brown did with Tyrus Thomas: Nothing. Do we really want Anthony Randolph’s growth stunned by Brown? Or how about Kevin Love, for that matter? It’s too big of a risk for the Wolves to go that old with this young of a team. I just don’t see it happening.

Don Nelson: Woah, Nellie! Marc Stein of ESPN dropped this bomb shortly after the official news of Rambis firing broke networks. And I think Anthony Randolph has been struck dead upon hearing this news.

Nelson’s last coaching gig was with Golden State, where he was fired after the front office blew up after some turmoil. One described that situation to me as Nellie as the lone man running the entire show. Sounds awfully familiar here in Minnesota… But I digress.

Kahn wants speed, sheer speed. He’ll certainly get that with Nelson. Nelson is infamous for his up-tempo offenses in the past, even in Golden State. But what’s special about the idea of Nelson on Minnesota’s sideline is his winning ways. The NBA’s most winningest coach in history has, well, won a lot of games. The Wolves’ young roster is in desperate need of a coach who has been there, done that and can use his experience in big moments and games to show this team some winning ways.

There’s only one major flaw with Nelson as our head coach. The man is 71 years old. The Timberwolves are the youngest team in the league. Just like the situation would be with Larry Brown, the fit really isn’t there because younger players need a coach who they can relate to in order to catch on to his philosophies and winning ways. Oh, and not to mention, our defense certainly wouldn’t get much better, if any. Just throwing it out there.

Although Nelson seems like a good fit, I’m just not so sure he’s the coach we need. Now, that’s not to say I wouldn’t mind having him because I feel he’d be a certain upgrade over Rambis, but if we want to get picky in the process, — which we really shouldn’t be — there’s another candidate that must be a better fit.