Congratulations to new Minnesota Timberwolves coach, Kurt Rambis. The Wolves and Rambis have agreed to a 4-year contract estimated at over $8 million.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
The Minnesota Timberwolves appear keenly interested in Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach, Kurt Rambis. And with good reason I might add. Rambis is no stranger to the Lakers tradition of winning. As a member of the original cast of Showtime, Kurt executed the role of Clark Kent to perfection and did the yeoman’s share of the dirty work, collecting rebounds, making the outlet pass, playing hard-nosed defense, and protecting the paint by clearing out space so that Magic, Big Game James, Cap, B, and Coop had room to operate. Rambis was the blue collar, lunchpail carrying, black framed glasses wearing, Mr. Ordinary that every fan could identify with. Although most fans yearned to be like Magic Johnson, thrill the crowds like James Worthy, fly to the hoop ala Michael Cooper, or rain down jumpers like Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis was the player most could emulate out on the courts. His play was the result of hard work, perseverance, and hustle. What he lacked in physical talent, he made up for by never giving up on a play. It was Rambis who dove into the stands chasing down a loose ball. It was Rambis being clotheslined by Kevin McHale, who most personifies the Lakers/Celtics hatred for one another and their heated rivalry. And it was Rambis who never got the accolades or the attention, but was nonetheless recognized and rewarded by the organization that gave him his first chance.
Drafted in the 3rd round with the 58th pick out of Santa Clara in 1980 by the New York Knicks, Rambis was subsequently waived and played pro ball in Greece that year. It wasn’t until he was signed as a free agent by the Lakers in 1981 did he begin to make his mark. Unheralded and a relative unknown, Rambis made the team with his penchant for defense and his sheer grittiness. But the Lakers started the season in uncharacteristic fashion and with a lot of drama. Mired with a mediocre 7-4 record, Magic Johnson demanded to be traded. He claimed Coach Paul Westhead’s offense was stifling the team’s creativity, or better yet, his own. The next day, Westhead was fired and replaced by the tandem of Jerry West and Pat Riley. Riley eventually took the reins and the rest is history, but Rambis sat at the end of the bench, unsure if he would ever get the opportunity to play. His chance came soon enough. In December, newly acquired power forward Mitch Kupchak, blew out his knee and was lost for the season. It would take several years before Kupchak would ever able to play again. Needing to get some wins under his belt, as well as appease his disgruntled superstar, Riley decided to go with Rambis in the starting line-up because one, he didn’t look for his shot, and two, he did the dirty work that no one else would do. Rambis responded with 14 rebounds in his first start and Superman and Rambo was instantly born.
Rambis immediately blossomed in his new role and soon developed a legion of loyal fans at the Fabulous Forum, complete with mock black rimmed glasses and thick mustaches. Kurt went on to spend seven productive seasons with the Lakers, garnering four championship rings in the process. His desire to continue to play and the emergence of AC Green ultimately led him to his decision to leave the Lakers and play elsewhere. He continued his career with the Hornets, Suns, Kings and finally back to Los Angeles again to finish out his career. His dedication to his craft and preparedness for the games began to pique his interest in coaching as his playing days came to a close. Kurt found satisfaction in scouting opponents, devising defensive schemes and providing individual workouts with players who fit his mold. Kurt remains a lifer with the Lakers, and has always done what’s best for the organization. He briefly took over head coaching duties when Del Harris was fired midway through the 1999 season. His 24-13 mark was impressive in that he had to manage a budding superstar in Kobe Bryant, a equally vocal and effacious leader in Shaquille ONeal, and a distraction gone completely haywire in Dennis Rodman. Rambis was given brief attention for the full time gig during the ensuing off season, but the hiring of Phil Jackson and his full staff of Chicago Bulls assistants pushed Rambis out the door. Rambis was retained by the Lakers first as an Assistant General Manager, then eventually made his way back down onto the floor as part of Phil’s staff.
The pressure to step into the head coach position with the Los Angeles Lakers is not for the faint of heart. Take Rudy Tomjanovich for instance. Back-to-back championships in Houston paled in comparison to the pressure of winning in Los Angeles. On the occasions when Rambis has had to take the reins of the team, be it in the Summer Pro League, preseason games, or in Phil Jackson’s absence, he has shown remarkable growth and maturity since his days back in 1999 when he was thrust into the spotlight. His command of the players is complete now, his ability to make sound judgement and game time decisions honed from years of sitting next to the master. But there seems to be something missing. Coaches make their money when the game is on the line and the stakes are at its greatest. A single play or defensive execution can make the difference in a win or loss. And it is during these times that I find myself losing confidence in Kurt’s coaching decisions. I’ll be the first to admit that he has not had the opportunity to prove himself. Half a season, and almost a decade ago does not dictate what type of coach Kurt Rambis is or will be, nor does a handful of games spread out over the past few seasons.
But what bothered me back then, continues to gnaw at me today. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there on the periphery, like a looming dark shadow about to come down and snuff out all the light and goodness around you. Kurt’s not a bad guy, in fact he’s one of my all-time Laker favorites, but is he the successor to Phil Jackson and all that’s been built here? I’ve got to say, “No.” The best thing that could happen to both Rambis and Laker fans is for him to accept another head coaching position. Sacramento refused to pay his fair market value and Paul Westphal wanted back into the league at any cost. Philadelphia was simply trying to lure Eddie Jordan into making a commitment, but Minnesota appears genuinely interested in Rambis. I guess enough Celtics failure with Kevin McHale has made owner Glen Taylor believe in a total make-over. But what this opportunity does provide is an audition for the Lakers coaching hot seat later down the road. I truly believe that Kurt Rambis will make a good, if not great head coach. He just needs some mileage under his belt and the confidence that goes along with having experienced it firsthand.
By proving himself elsewhere, Rambis’ acclimation period back to the Lakers would be removed. His intimate familiarity with the personnel, staff and front office would only enhance his ability to succeed from Day 1. But this all happens after he tests the water for himself, without the assistance of many of the NBA’s best of the best available at his fingertips. Rambis needs to go out on his own, become wizened and polished, and return as the new Guru, not remain here as the guru in waiting. Quietly, Byron Scott has been honing his coaching skills with stints in New Jersey and New Orleans. Don’t fool yourself for even a second thinking that he wouldn’t be interested in returning to the Lakers when this enviable position becomes available. Kurt needs to do the same thing. Not because I favor Byron Scott over him, or because I want Phil Jackson to stay on forever, but for the simple reason of creating his own coaching style and establishing his own winning credentials, so that one day he can return back to Los Angeles, and confidently take his seat on the throne.