The last thing anyone needs is another voice laughing at Minnesota general manager David Kahn, especially because much of the contempt directed at him overlooks the fact that he has effectively used his team’s cap space to nab Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. But Kahn tends to make it easy, whether by paying a combined $18 million next season to Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster; drafting back-to-back point guards while prepping to hire Kurt Rambis, who would surely install the triangle offense, which tends to de-emphasize point guard play; talking up Milicic in public beyond all reason; and now firing Rambis, three weeks after reports became public that he had decided to do so.
In the meantime, Rambis hung in limbo, reportedly left to contemplate the pseudo-offer of a front-office job he didn’t want. Maybe the real story isn’t quite this black-and-white. Perhaps Kahn or others in the Wolves’ front office felt some indecision after Yahoo! Sports broke the news of Rambis’ pending dismissal in late June. Maybe there was some real internal debate about the coach, and the last three weeks didn’t really consist of a thorough search for a replacement while Rambis looked like a fool.
But no one thinks that was the case, and that perception matters. As SI.com’s Chris Mannix tweeted Tuesday afternoon, the league has obviously taken notice of how the Wolves have handled Rambis’ dismissal, just as the next guy who thinks about taking Portland’s GM position will surely hear cautionary notes from an NBA chorus that doesn’t understand why Blazers owner Paul Allen enjoys firing GMs so much. This won’t stop elite candidates from taking jobs with either franchise, because there are so few top NBA jobs to go around. But it might give pause to a few such candidates, either for the top gig or an assistant spot, and the controversies certainly haven’t improved either franchise’s reputation among players, agents and fans.
It’s fine to dismiss Rambis. The triangle — or Minnesota’s version of it, anyway — never worked, and, even more damning, the team remained terrible defensively for two straight seasons under Rambis. The talent here is subpar, but it took Rambis a season and a half to figure out how talented Kevin Love is, and it’s just really hard for any collection of legitimate NBA players to win only 32 games over two full seasons. But the manner of this dismissal is strange at best, irresponsible at worst. The Pistons took their time with the inevitable firing of John Kuester, but they had a franchise sale to complete. The Wolves have had no such roadblock.
They do have the lockout, which perhaps removes some urgency from the hiring process, because coaches can’t talk to players as long as it persists. Maybe the Wolves didn’t miss out on any candidates they might have wanted. Maybe they didn’t want their old buddy Kevin McHale (now head man in Houston); or Mark Jackson (Golden State); or Mike Malone (Jackson’s top assistant); or former Wolves coach Dwane Casey (hired by Toronto); or Mike Brown (Lakers); or Kuester (Brown’s top assistant); or Jim Boylan (staying with the Bucks); or Brian Shaw (now associate head coach in Indiana, and a guy who knows something about the triangle); or Elston Turner (tabbed this week as a defensive assistant in Phoenix).
And in the last hour or so, we’ve learned two other interesting names have left the ranks of free coaching candidates. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that Kelvin Sampson has left his job as an assistant with the Bucks to work under McHale in Houston. Sampson was a candidate for the Detroit opening, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!, in re-breaking the Rambis story Tuesday, listed Sampson as a possible candidate in Minnesota. Not anymore.
Meanwhile, Marc Spears of Yahoo! reports that J.B. Bickerstaff has left his post as a Wolves assistant to take an assistant job in Houston as well. Wojnarowski and others have previously reported that the Wolves viewed Bickerstaff as future head-coaching material and were interested in hiring his father, Bernie, to serve as head coach while the team groomed his son for the job.
It’s possible, of course, that the younger Bickerstaff has left under perfectly fine circumstances and would love to eventually return to Minnesota to sit in the big chair. And it’s possible that the Wolves real favored candidate is still out there. Maybe the only thing Minnesota has lost here is credibility. That doesn’t affect on-court performance, and some excitement from Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams could go a long way toward reclaiming that credibility, at least among fans. But credibility is still a nice thing to have, right?