Archives For Kurt Rambis

Monday night was a wonderland.

The ball was flowing like wine in the offense. There was help defense, scrappiness against the best team in the West, and a care for maximizing the possession inspired by our own Spanish sommelier. And you were there, and you were there, and J.J. Barea too.

Last night?

It was a flashback to last season, when we were screaming at the coach to get the bad lineup off the floor and wondering just how many turnovers had to be committed by the Wolves until we walked around Uptown punching every person you saw. What’s that? That was just me? Well then, surely you can empathize with the screaming at the coaching, yes?

I don’t want to absolve the team of any bad play because the effort from last night should be an overwhelming sense of embarrassment for them. It was the reason they’re currently on a 17-game losing streak dating back to last season. It was the reason that everybody used to laugh at the franchise, and feel bad or confused for why we’re all Wolves fans in the first place. However, the third quarter of this game was the exact feeling I felt when Kurt Rambis was on the bench.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, Rick Adelman couldn’t be with the team and I wish his family the best in this time of grieving. Because of that, we had Terry Porter calling the shots from the bench. After a frustrating first half of basketball in which the Wolves hung in the game despite playing horrendous transition defense, horrendous halfcourt defense and turned the ball over like Rick’s petition to the league got the green light, they had a chance to erase all of those bad feelings of fluster from the first half and come out firing back at the Bucks. Instead, the Wolves came out flat. The lead was quickly pushed from 12 to 19 and we all began to feel the equivalent of being a basketball POW.

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Rambis, the bullets

Benjamin Polk —  July 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Photo by Will Keightley

These days, Wolves fans have to instinctively wince a little whenever we find our crew in the national media.  But thanks to the Kurt Rambis odyssey (“fiasco” or “debacle” could also suffice), here we are. So here are some more tidbits:

Thing is, the Wolves were already the fastest team in the league last year, averaging 96.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They were also one of the very worst in the league at converting fastbreak opportunities and turning the ball over…If Kahn is in fact trying to model his roster after these rare speed demons [early decade Kings, '08 Lakers, D'Antoni-era Suns], he’s doing a miserable job. Those teams were built with play-making veterans, unselfish offensive philosophies, deft passing from all five positions and consistent 3-point shooters. These elements of efficiency and execution were necessary to win by imposing an uptempo style of play night in and night out against top competition. Kahn’s teams have not even approached a single element of what made these offenses so great.

True enough. I would also add: the Wolves played at such a high pace largely because they so deeply loved turning the ball over. Lots of quick turnovers means lots of possessions that end before they begin, which means more possessions per game.

  • This is hilarious: rumor is that Don Nelson is interested in the Wolves’ coaching vacancy (thanks to College Wolf for the tip).  In some ways, this makes a little sense. David Kahn wants that “uptempo DNA” and holy smokes, Nellie certainly has that. What’s more, with his knack for dissolving positional distinctions in order to create matchup anarchy, he would seem somehow suited for the Wolves’ oddly sized front court mishmash. On the other hand, its hard to see how the Wolves would address their defensive problems by hiring a coach who almost literally stopped coaching defense in Golden State. (Also, does Nellie know that Anthony Randolph plays for the Wolves?).
  • The Wolves’ rumored plan to hire Bernie Bickerstaff to mentor his son J.B., would seem a bit more complicated now that J.B. has agreed to join Kevin McHale in Houston. Seriously, what are they going to do?

Harper on Rambis

Benjamin Polk —  July 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

Over at Truehoop, Zach has the definitive account of the Rambis era:

Rambis was not a very good coach over the past two years. His teams were inefficient offensively and abhorrent defensively. Last season, it seemed that he was one of the worst fourth-quarter coaches in the entire league because of how the Wolves seemed to kick away leads. (Yes, they actually had fourth-quarter leads.)…However, the way he’s been treated by Kahn and the Wolves organization in the past two months might be the most embarrassing part of this entire era. Rambis should have been fired right after the regular season ended. There was no real reason to drag this out. It’s just another case of the Wolves mismanaging a personnel decision within the organization. The Wolves already should have a head coach and be ready to make roster decisions once the lockout ends. Instead, they’ve once again been making moves without a head coach in place for the upcoming season.

All true. Here’s what I would add, though. Zach points out that, partially because Rambis was hired after the roster was set in 2009, this team was never temperamentally or compositionally cut out to run the triangle.  But its widely known that Tex Winter’s offense requires an exceptionally steep learning curve for young players. My impression was that, by hiring Rambis and giving him a four year deal, the Wolves were taking the long view, acknowledging that this would take some time and patience, that no team as young as the Wolves could ever have learned the system in two short years. Given that Kahn and Taylor appear to have run out of patience after just two seasons, one wonders why Rambis was hired and given such a vote of confidence to begin with.

Well, our long national nightmare is over. The Timberwolves have finaly announced that Kurt Rambis has been “relieved” of his coaching duties. (I continue to love that sickly passive aggressive-phrase: “Oh, thank you so very much for doing me the favor of relieving me of my duties. It’s such a terrific relief.”) From the Wolves:

“I want to thank Kurt for his contributions to our franchise and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” said David Kahn, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. “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. It is always hard to make these decisions. It is especially hard when it involves somebody of Kurt’s reputation. Even so, this is the right time for us to make a head coaching change now that we’ve identified our roster and its specific needs.”

See post below.

Rumors of Bickerstaff

Benjamin Polk —  July 12, 2011 — 5 Comments

Photo by Markus P L

From Jerry Zgoda at the Star Tribune:

Last time we checked, Kurt Rambis still is Timberwolves’ coach but that isn’t stopping Davis Kahn from continuing his pursuit of a new coach apparently. On Monday, the Oregonian newspaper in Portland reported that the Wolves late last week asked the Trail Blazers for permission to talk to Blazers assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff about the team’s still-filled head coaching job. Bickerstaff’s contract with the Blazers expired on July 1 — which is also when the current labor lockout began — but he has been negotiating with the Blazers about a new one. The idea with hiring Bickerstaff — 67 and a head coach with four different NBA teams during his long career when he also was a president and GM — would be to sign him for a year or two while his son J.B. is groomed to take over the job when he’s ready…There’s a couple other reasons this makes sense: J.B. would work cheap and he’ll take the job in an instant.And with the way this debacle has played out, that latter quality might be getting harder and harder to come by. The Wolves’ insistence at dragging this out presumably to save money just makes the franchise from around the league look  even more mismanged, if that’s possible.

I have very little to add to this.  David Kahn has shown himself to be genuinely skilled at explaining the team’s most puzzling moves (see his long conversation with Bill Simmons). But he and Glen Taylor also seem to be unable to avoid repeatedly giving the impression that their franchise is an tumultuous wreck. And, more importantly, they seem to be blithely unaware that such impressions are almost as important as the decisions themselves. Whether or not your decision to draft Jonny Flynn one spot after Ricky Rubio, say, was actually well-reasoned, it appeared amateurish and incompetent. And those appearances matter gravely.

When you’re surrounded, as I am at Wolves games, by two deadly smart, upper-echelon talkers, conversation tends to wander. At issue during Thursday night’s languid first half was the Cosby Show and it’s depiction of the African-American experience. Were Cliff and his brood a triumph of aspirational representation, a giant step forward from J.J. Walker’s grinning minstrelsy? Or were they a simple reflection of a naively “post-racial” liberal imagination, whistling around the complicated truths of blackness in America? Or both? And anyway why is it the job of every black cultural product to portray the full, complicated spectrum of the African-American experience? And isn’t this asking an awful lot of a sitcom?

Now I love those Huxtables dearly, but what has always gotten under my skin about the show is its eagerness to conform with the sterile, bourgeois fantasies of American success: appropriately upper-middle class professions; kids so charming they’ll hurt your teeth; serious property ownership; more late Louis Armstrong than Ornette Coleman. Again, asking a lot of a sitcom.

It’s just that I happen to prefer Ornette Coleman. And when it comes to the NBA, we can find the Huxtables’ ethos of vanilla success in the competent, businesslike way that the most powerful teams conduct their affairs–and the way the less powerful, but generally more interesting teams tend to aspire to that same bland ethos.

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There are lots of ways to lose to the San Antonio Spurs. You know this already. Tim Duncan might hit a buzzer-beating three. Manu Ginobili might perform a series of increasingly uncanny bodily contortions,  each ending with a basketball feathering through the hoop. That legendary defense might incrementally, unobtrusively increase its constriction, leaving you, at games end, suddenly suffocated and dry. The Wolves are getting to know these facts intimately: you might be called for a phantom three-point foul; you might be massively out-coached in the games waning moments. The list is endless.

But in all their years of monolithic fourth-quarter domination, not to mention relentless, bug-eyed ref-baiting, I swear I have never seen the Spurs draw five technical fouls on their opponent in the span of 30 seconds. But this happened on Tuesday night, in a fairly crucial moment of the third quarter, the Wolves having just pared a double-digit Spurs lead to six. And the best part: through some trick of alchemy or cold fusion or psychedelic imagination, two of those techs were called on two different Timberwolves simultaneously. By the same official! It was as if every subatomic particle of Stern-ian behavior modification became concentrated in Ken Mauer’s whistle in one decisive moment. At this very instant, somewhere in between Kurt Rambis being ejected for arguing said act of visionary officiating and Kevin Love getting t’d for slapping his hands together, this game entered an altered zone. Ginobili hit four consecutive free-throws. Bill Laimbeer was suddenly an NBA head-coach. The smiling, fired up Wolves embarked on a run of brazen, occasionally inspired play.

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"The Nightmare" by Henry Fuesslie

Judging from my own reactions and those of my (many) correspondents, this latest Wolves debacle has given us all that awful feeling of waking up from those really significant nightmares. I’m talking about those dreams that leave little remnants of dread shimmering around in your body all through the next day. This game was like that.

For me, it wasn’t just that the Wolves lost another late lead, or that they played so very badly for so much of the game, or that they lost to such a rotten team (although it’s all of those things too). There was something really unsettling about the way the team related to itself at the end of the game. I’ll start with an observation.

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photo by shiftedreality

Well this game was just a hot mess. On display here were two bad basketball teams playing some unintuitive, unlovely, awfully bad basketball. The Wolves missed more than a third of their free throws. They turned the ball over in crucial situations. Their first half was a listless fiasco. I’ll allow Kurt Rambis to continue: “their bench killed us, our defense was sub-par tonight and our effort was…nonexistent for the vast majority of the ballgame.” All true.

And yet, thanks to the fact that the Bobcast are a decimated wreck of a club, the Wolves by all rights should still have won this game. The entirety of the third quarter was a 30-14 Wolves run. They were up by eight points with just under three minutes remaining and up five points at the 1:48 mark. How did this come to such a depressing end? Well, that’s actually a hard question to answer. There’s no focal point of blame for this game; things went wrong in diffuse, ever-shifting waves. Let me try to catch a few:

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“Obviously,” said Kurt Rambis after this harsh game, “what plagues us as a ballclub is our composure in late game situations.” That it is indeed obvious makes the point no less salient and no less worth repeating. The Wolves are glaringly young and inexperienced; this resonates through nearly every game that the team has played this year.  In past seasons, the Wolves were defined by a simple, bitter fact: they were much less talented than nearly every other team. Watching those teams play, one was rarely tempted into false optimism; the crushing runs just seemed inevitable.

But that’s not quite the case this year. I’m guessing no one would look at this team’s roster and confuse them with the Miami Heat, but this season the Wolves are able to do many of the things that actual basketball teams do: they build leads; they make runs; they pose matchup problems; they manage to entertainingly compete with other basketball teams. What aggravates is the way the small but glaring mistakes accrue throughout a game, taking on a sinister collective weight as the Wolves inch closer to another single digit loss.

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