MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Head coach Kurt Rambis has been let go as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to team officials.
Rambis was the Timberwolves’ ninth coach starting in Aug. 2009. In his two seasons as head coach, the team had a record of 32-132.
The announcement came after a few months of speculation of his job status. In a statement, Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn thanked Rambis for his work with the team and wished him the best in the future.
“His arrival signaled we were serious about building a championship-contending ballclub over the course of time,” said Kahn in the statement. “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.”
In the statement, Kahn said while the decision was hard to make, this was the right time for a head coaching change with a roster filled with new players.
“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.”
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.
Before joining the Timberwolves, Rambis was the assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, in some ways, the Timberwolves are back to square one — looking for the kind of leader who can mold this young and disenchanted team into a playoff contender in the powerful Western Conference.
Since Flip Saunders was fired six years ago, the Wolves have changed coaches five times, with Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman and now Rambis all taking their turns trying to get this team back on track.
In a telling sign of the instability, Rambis’ 164 games coached are tied with Bill Musselman (1989-91) for the second-most in franchise history. Only Saunders (737) has coached more games on the Wolves bench.
Kahn wanted Rambis to retool his offense, which had elements of the triangle system used by Jackson, if he was to return for a third season. The triangle offense limits the point guard’s ability to freelance and create, something Kahn wanted to change with Ricky Rubio coming over next season.
As Kahn waited and waited to make a decision on Rambis, the situation grew more awkward.
Rambis showed up at several pre-draft workouts to watch prospects, but was not in the draft room the night the Timberwolves selected Derrick Williams with the No. 2 pick. He also was not present during Rubio’s introduction, forcing the players to have to answer questions about the uncertainty with the head coach.
In May, Kahn asked Rambis to fill out a report of how he would change things next season, saying he would read it before he made a decision. Rambis completed the report in June, but Kahn still waited to announce the firing until almost three weeks after the draft.
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.
The Oregonian reported on Monday that the Portland Trail Blazers have granted permission Bernie Bickerstaff to speak with the Wolves.
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)