Wolves Welcome Kurt Rambis

Jonah Ballow
Wolves Editor/Writer
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Nine years ago, Kurt Rambis faced a daunting task in his first experience as a head coach.

A lockout created a dark cloud over the National Basketball Association heading into the 1998-99 season. While the Players Association and the league hammered out a new six-year collective bargaining agreement, the players, coaches, and fans were put on hold for 32 regular season games.

"That lockout year was tremendously difficult," Rambis said. "I don't think any coach, player, general manager; owner would like to repeat that situation. It was really an awful year."

Rambis replaced Del Harris for 37 games during that season on the Los Angeles Lakers sidelines, recording an admirable 24-13 mark. The team won nine straight games to start Rambis' head coaching campaign. The 99' season provided the necessary groundwork for Rambis to develop as a signal caller.

Kurt Rambis Press Conference

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"But, for me, I used it as a learning experience. Just about every situation that could have developed in a season for me as a coach to be able to handle happened in that season. I had two young superstars fighting for control of the ball club (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal) and having to deal with their personalities helped me grow. Dealing with Dennis Rodman helped me grow. There were trades that were made. This was a season where we were playing five games in six nights. There wasn't a whole lot of practice time to make adjustments," Rambis said.

After working under several different titles in the Los Angeles front office, Rambis played a pivotal role as the defensive coordinator for the team last year. The Lakers reached the top of the mountain in 2008-09, which vaulted Rambis to the top of the list for possible head coaching candidates. The opportunity to one-day replace Phil Jackson in Los Angeles was attractive for the California native. However, at this point, Rambis is ready to take the leap; he understands the limited chances at earning the position of head coach.

"But when an opportunity like this comes along, to build a team, to build a team the way that I envision a team playing, to work with quality individuals that they already have on this ball club," Rambis said. "David has done an incredible job of increasing our capability of adding the right pieces in the future, playing the style of ball that I like to teach."

"This opportunity could not be passed up. And I wasn't going to let it pass up. I did everything I possibly could to get this job and I am incredibly excited to be here."

Rambis has played and assisted for the two Jedi Masters of the sport. For nine years, Rambis suited up for the "Showtime" Lakers, where he joined forces with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Cooper to hoist four championship trophies. The man with slick hair, dapper suits, and million-dollar smile -- Pat Riley, also coached him. Riley is known in most NBA circles as a man who runs a tight ship with extreme focus on the details in all aspects of his organization.

"Pat [Riley] is a relentless worker, preparer. Playing under him, particularly when we got to playoff situations, and we in Showtime always got a lot of credit for our offense but nobody looked at the fact that we really spent a lot of time playing defense. And we worked extremely hard on our defense, so much so that in situations in playoff games when our opponents were calling out their plays, we knew their play as well as they did. We got to spots on the floor that their players were trying to get to before they got there," Rambis said.

On the flip side, Rambis spent seven seasons on the bench next to arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NBA -- Jackson. The approach from Jackson is vastly different from Riley. Jackson is the ultimate manager of personalities as he utilizes a Buddhist philosophy to reach his players.

"But I like the freedom that he's given players to make decisions with the ball," Rambis said. "He [Jackson] gives them all the opportunity to be passers, be dribblers, be shooters, be basket attackers and those are all things that players want to hear and like to do. They just have to be well versed in reading those situations to make sure they make accurate decisions."

In the middle, you will find Rambis. The 51-year old projects a sense of balance with his own set of plans for the Wolves' but he will also rely on lessons learned from his mentors.

"You combine a work ethic and an intellectual approach to the game, you're going to have some quality players developing out of your system," Rambis reiterated.

Fans at the Target Center can expect a run-and-gun squad from the new-look Wolves. Rambis will not shy away from the possibility of featuring two point guards in the backcourt (Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio).

"We clearly have to get the Ricky Rubio situation addressed, one way or another," Rambis said. "Jonny Flynn is a tremendous point guard. I see huge potential in both of those players.

Potential has become the buzzword for the Wolves' offseason with the franchise hiring a new president of basketball of operations, head coach, and re-shaping the roster to allow for tremendous cap space next year. Rambis' focus is clear -- change the losing culture. He can only promise the dedication of his players and coaching staff to deliver an exciting product on the floor, which will hopefully turn into a playoff contender in the near future.

"I know losing is part of it and if the players handle the situation, I'll help guide them through that. Developing a distaste for losing yet all the while growing from the experiences so they can help avoid it in the future is going to be paramount for me as a coach and it's going to help them learn as players when we finally turn this franchise around and start winning," Rambis said.

In 1999, Rambis was not quite ready for the spotlight. In 2009-10, Rambis is confident in his abilities to build and coach a winning team from a player development perspective. Throw a little Zen Master, a splash of Riles, and a whole lot of championship experience into the blender and the result is the new head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Welcome Kurt Rambis.
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