Timberwolves fire Kurt Rambis after 2 years
The longer the Kurt Rambis saga dragged on, the bigger the mess got for president of basketball operations David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The organization endured a torrent of criticism nationally for allowing Rambis to twist in the wind, tarnishing the team's image across the league while many accomplished candidates took other jobs as Kahn mulled the decision.
The long expected firing finally was officially announced Tuesday, ending more than three months of uncertainty and awkwardness surrounding the head coach of the worst team in the NBA last season.
''People can argue about this should have happened and that should've happened, but I think collectively we felt that we were doing the right thing in terms of the way we approached it,'' Kahn said. ''But I also recognize it took a long time. That's on me. And I realize that it can look more convoluted and complicated than maybe it really is, and that's on me. And to that extent I feel badly about that, too, and I apologize for that.''
Kahn hired Rambis in 2009 to turn around one of the league's struggling franchises. But Rambis went 32-132 in his two seasons, including a league-worst 17-65 in his second year on the job.
The unusual sequence of events began at season's end, with Kahn holding his own press conference hours before the season finale on April 13 to say that he would take his time to make a decision on Rambis' future. The eventful summer also included Kahn asking Rambis to write a report on what he would change if he returned for a third season and offering a position in the front office if Rambis would step down as coach.
Through it all, eyebrows were raised across the league, never more than in May when dozens of league executives came to Target Center to watch a group of draft prospects workout. Rambis was there as well, even though he did not know if he would be back in 2011-12.
Rambis wasn't fired until seven weeks later, long after being told he was not welcome at an introductory news conference for point guard Ricky Rubio or the draft on June 23.
It was somewhat similar to when Kahn was first hired in 2009 and let then-coach Kevin McHale dangle for weeks before ultimately deciding not to retain him.
''I wish it was easier to do,'' Kahn said of finding the right coach, mentioning that 19 have been fired since Rambis took the job in 2009. ''I feel certainly the weight of having to do this. I don't want to say this at Kurt's expense, but obviously we need to do it better than the last one.''
While people searched for answers on the process, Kahn said the delay in firing Rambis had nothing to do with money.
Rambis has two years left on the four-year contract he got to leave his job as Phil Jackson's top assistant with the Lakers. That means owner Glen Taylor will be on the hook for about $4 million 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.''
No mention of Kahn there. As their second season together in Minnesota wore on, the relationship between Rambis and Kahn appeared to deteriorate as well. The two rarely spoke as their philosophies on what would work best on the court diverged.
Kahn wanted Rambis to retool the offense, which had elements of the triangle system used by Jackson, to a more up-tempo, fast-break-or-bust mentality. The triangle offense limits the point guard's ability to freelance and create, something Kahn wanted to change with Rubio's arrival for next season.
Rambis didn't feel that run-and-gun approach would be conducive to winning in the NBA, so the two drifted off the same page.
''I didn't feel comfortable dictating how the team should be coached,'' Kahn said when asked what led to the final decision. ''I think it needed to flow from out of him.''
Under Rambis, 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 defense, inconsistent ball movement - at the end of the season that they were at the beginning. They lost their last 15 games.
''He tried hard,'' Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver said. ''At the end of the day, he didn't have the success that we wanted to. It wasn't because of a lack of effort. But I respect David Kahn's decision to hire a new coach. It's a business.''
Now, in some ways, the Timberwolves are back to square one - looking for the kind of leader who can mold this young team into a playoff contender in the powerful Western Conference.
Former Timberwolves coach and executive Kevin McHale may have thrown a wrench in Kahn's plans for a successor. McHale, who was hired by the Houston Rockets as coach this summer, has added Kelvin Sampson and J.B. Bickerstaff to his bench, two people with knowledge of the decision said on condition of anonymity because the Rockets have not announced the hires.
Kahn said he has received permission to speak with Portland assistant Bernie Bickerstaff. One of the plans being considered was hiring Bernie Bickerstaff while having his son J.B. tutor under him for a year or two before taking over.
And despite all the criticism of the process, Kahn said he didn't expect it to affect the team's ability to find a suitable replacement. He said Tuesday that he has already received ''seven or eight'' calls from coaches interested in getting consideration.
''I think at the end of the day people look at the roster and I think that our roster gives people a lot of optimism and enthusiasm for where this position could go in the next several years,'' Kahn said.
AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.
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