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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — From the moment David Kahn took over as president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, he has focused on bringing an up-tempo style of play to Minnesota.
He spoke of a free-wheeling, open-floored, “beautiful game” version of basketball that would make players want to come to frigid, small-market Minnesota and fans look forward to shelling out money to watch such an entertaining style of basketball.
With all that in mind, he hired Kurt Rambis, who played for the “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s, to bring that style to Minnesota. When Rambis’s teams lost 132 games in two seasons and didn’t play the wide-open style that Kahn envisioned, he fired the coach and began looking for a coach to instill “a very up-tempo, fast-breaking style on both ends of the floor.”
Kahn ended three months of uncertainty on Tuesday when he announced the firing, and said his top priority in picking a new coach will be to find one committed to running, running and running some more.
He doesn’t just want that to be the coach’s philosophy. It appears he wants it to be a part of who the person is at the very core, someone whose “DNA is up-tempo.”
“Someone whose DNA is, `That’s how I coached. That’s how my teams have played. That’s how I believe we should play,”‘ Kahn said. “Because we’ve very carefully built this roster over the last couple years to play this style of play.”
That’s what Kahn thought he was getting in 2009 when he hired Rambis. But he turned out to be more influenced by Phil Jackson than Pat Riley, convinced that shortcomings on the roster demanded a different style of play.
Kahn lauded Rambis for his work in player development, helping Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and others put together their best seasons as pros.
“But I think last year it was confusing to me at times we probably weren’t pushing the open court style as much as think we first envisioned when I first spoke to him two years ago,” he said.
So who could fit that bill this time around?
–Veteran coach Rick Adelman has a history of playing the kind of style predicated on ball movement and transition with Portland, Sacramento and Houston, but it is unclear if he would be interested in taking over such a young team, or if the cash-strapped Timberwolves could afford him.
–Don Nelson has more wins than any coach in NBA history, and his “Nellie Ball” is the very definition of up-tempo. But Nelson also has a history of clashing with young players.
–Bernie Bickerstaff has been granted permission by the Blazers to interview for the job and has shown an ability to incorporate running during stops with Charlotte, Denver and Seattle. But Bickerstaff’s son, J.B., has agreed to take a job with the Houston Rockets, which would spoil any succession plans the team may have been considering.
“I think that it’s very important as we go through the search process that we identify somebody who passionately believes in that and probably has a little bit of a track record in that respect and can help make this come to fruition,” Kahn said.
But can the Timberwolves win with that approach?
They finished 10th in the league in scoring last season, averaging 101.1 points per game while playing at a break-neck pace that probably was too fast for their own good. The youngest team in the league led the NBA in turnovers, points allowed and, not coincidentally, losses.
According to STATS LLC, four of the last five and seven of the past nine NBA champions ranked 11th or lower in points per game the year they won the title. Only the 2009 Lakers (third) and 2006 Heat (sixth) won championships while ranking in the top 10 in scoring.
The Timberwolves, who have won just 32 games the last two seasons, are nowhere close to competing for a championship and everyone knows that.
Timberwolves veteran Anthony Tolliver said offense wasn’t the issue for the team last year. He said the key will be to get a coach who can harp on and instill a defensive mindset if they hope to win more games.
To that end, Kahn said he was referring to playing up-tempo “at both ends of the floor,” referring to an increase in energy and effort on defense.
Kahn said he planned to start the search in earnest next week, promising a “voluminous search” process.
“I think that we have all the ingredients here to be a pretty fine team here the next several years,” Kahn said. “But now I think as everybody understands we’ve got to find somebody, or we’ve got to find an entire coaching staff to help put it together.”
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