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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Rambis era over after two seasons in Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves fired Kurt Rambis on Tuesday, ending more than three months of uncertainty and awkwardness surrounding the head coach of the worst team in the NBA last season.
Rambis was 32-132 in his brief stay in Minnesota, including 17-65 this past season.
"I want to thank Kurt for his contributions to our franchise and wish him the best in his future endeavors," Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in a statement issued by the team. "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."
Kahn hired Rambis in 2009 to turn around one of the league's struggling franchises. But the Wolves won just two more games this year than they did in his first season, and Kahn felt compelled to cut ties with the first coach he hand-picked to help him rebuild the Wolves.
Rambis asked for a four-year contract to leave his prime job as Phil Jackson's top assistant with the Lakers. That means owner Glen Taylor will be on the hook for the final two years and $4 million of that deal 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. "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."
The Timberwolves tied their franchise low with 15 victories in 2009-10, but both Kahn and Rambis said after their first season in charge that they were focused more on positioning the franchise to be competitive financially than they were about being competitive on the court.
They were successful on that end, clearing massive cap space and acquiring first-round draft picks in hopes that they would capitalize on those assets to build a strong foundation.
Rambis watched Kahn turn over the roster substantially for the second straight offseason to set up this year, making the Timberwolves much more athletic, but also much younger and less experienced. The pups struggled all season to mesh on the court and grasp Rambis' complex schemes.
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.
Meanwhile, former Timberwolves coach and executive Kevin McHale seems to be putting 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, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.
The people requested anonymity because the Rockets have not announced the hires.
Both men were expected to be on Kahn's short list, with Bickerstaff considered to be a coach-in-waiting if the Wolves hired his father, Bernie Bickerstaff away from Portland.
OKC's Durant praises Yao
Tianjin, China — Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant says it is "tough" to see Yao Ming retire and that the player deserves to be in the basketball Hall of Fame.
Durant said during a promotional tour in China on Tuesday that it has been an honor to play against the 229-cm Houston Rockets center. Yao is expected to announce at a news conference on July 20 that he's retiring from the NBA after nine seasons because of leg and foot injuries.
"Tough, man, tough to see a great player and a great competitor like Yao Ming leave the game after being injured a few years," Durant said.