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Art Garcia

Kurt Rambis' coaching experience in a winning system like the Lakers should benefit the Timberwolves.
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Rambis embraces patient approach to rebuilding Wolves

By Art Garcia,
Posted Aug 12 2009 8:07AM

Kurt Rambis doesn't expect the rebuilding job to go faster than a speeding bullet. The Timberwolves mild-mannered new coach isn't discarding his glasses or ripping open his shirt to save a franchise in distress.

Instead, a step-by-step approach is the order of the day in brining winning basketball back to the Twin Cities. One man can't do it alone. Not even Superman.

"You have to have talent to win," Rambis said after his introduction Tuesday afternoon. "You can't get around it."

The Wolves don't have much right now. The roster is in the process of massive turnover under Wolves president David Kahn, who's wasted little time jettisoning many of the players selected by ousted coach/former general manager Kevin McHale.

Power forward Al Jefferson is a holdover and definite building block, but he's coming off knee surgery. Fellow big man Kevin Love had a solid rookie year with 29 double-doubles. Kahn bucked convention by drafting two point guards back-to-back -- Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn -- in the top six. Rambis referred to 26-year-old small forward Ryan Gomes as the "elder statesman" of the young nucleus.

Other than plenty of cap room, that's about it. Rambis is keeping on open mind on the roster going forward, but admitted he projects Rubio as the eventual starter over Flynn. Though there's been little progress in the Spaniard's buyout negotiations, Rambis stressed Rubio's willingness to come this season if possible.

A love of point guards and an up-tempo offense preceded Rambis' run with Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers. Rambis made the point by harkening back to his days of yore, bringing up the flashiness of his playmaking teammate Eddie from elementary school.

But if the Wolves are going to run, they have to defend. Minnesota was in the bottom third in a number of defensive categories last season, including points allowed and field-goal percentage. Rambis made it clear that player development, not the team's record, is his top priority.

"One of the greatest ways, if not the greatest way, for players to learn how to play is to play," he said. "We might sacrifice wins in the early stages of our development because we have a long-range goal. The faster and quicker the players learn how to play in this league and get in tune with the individuals they will be matched up for and against in this league, the better off we're going to be in the future."

Kahn found his man after an exhaustive search of nearly two months by dipping into the franchise that once called Minnesota home. Chosen from a trio of finalists to replace McHale, Rambis left the Lakers after a long association that included stints as a beloved player, front office executive, interim coach and assistant.

Despite the wattage of A-listers that have worn Purple & Gold throughout the years, Rambis was a true Laker. Supporting actors don't come more respected than this native of Cupertino, Calif.

"Kurt is one of the hardest-working and brightest assistant coaches we've ever had, and I expect he will be very successful with the Timberwolves," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said. "Kurt has been a key figure in the success of the Lakers for nearly three decades."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted the loss to his staff, calling Rambis a "workhorse." Rambis has been a part of eight championships in Los Angeles going back to 1982 and culminating in June.

"He's worked with the youth of our team, coming in early and staying late, to help players develop," Jackson said. "Last season he took on the responsibility as the defensive coordinator, a valuable part of our championship run. We will miss him, but know this is his time to do what he's destined to do."

Once thought of as the logical successor to Jackson -- Rambis acknowledged as much -- the 51-year-old former muck-it-up forward who sported Clark Kent-style glasses during his playing days felt it time to move on. There were no guarantees that Rambis would get the Lakers job once Jackson stepped down, and Rambis added Tuesday that he could picture the Zen Master coaching beyond this season.

So instead of waiting on less than a sure thing, Rambis made himself available this summer. He interviewed with both Sacramento and Washington before landing his first full-time head coaching gig. (Rambis served as interim coach of the Lakers in 1999.)

"This is an opportunity right now," Rambis said. "There's only 30 NBA head coaching jobs in the world and this opportunity came up. [Wolves owner Glen Taylor] and Dave were willing to give me a contract that would give me time to help build a team and that's rare in today's climate."

The deal reportedly is four years for at least $8 million. While that appears to be ample security, there have been several cases in the last few years of coaches fired before the ink on their contract is dry. Terry Porter had less than a season in Phoenix. Michael Curry was canned after his first year in Detroit. Dwane Casey was given less than two years with the Wolves.

Rambis was undeterred.

"I love the development aspect of coaching," he said. "And I envision this team reaching a high level of play and I enjoy challenges. When I saw this opportunity and weighed all the pros and cons, it was too good of an opportunity to turn down. The con being I had to buy some big winter coats because I have none."

A big red cape just isn't enough.

If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.

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