TWB Summer Roundtable Volume 2: The Next Coach

As part of our summer Roundtable series, College Wolf and myself took the liberty of answering four questions that…..we developed ourselves.  You can check out Part 1 about the NBA Lockout HERE.

1.Why do you think Kahn waited so long to fire Rambis? Was the backlash he received deserved?  

College Wolf: I think that might remain one of life’s great unsolved mysteries; the true answer of which will probably never be known to the masses.  The backlash our organization received from the national mainstream media was most definitely deserved, as we were basically a laughingstock, being that everyone already knew Darrell Rambis was as good as gone.  Kahn more or less spelled it out during the press conference a day before the season ended, and no one could figure out why he waited as long as he did to actually fire him.  I get that there was no real rush since Rambis had a 4 year guaranteed contract, but it just made Kahn and Organization look inept and incompetent.  That’s understandable and probably deserved, being as how the past half-decade has gone.  But what was Kahn really waiting for?  Perhaps he was hoping Rambis would just quit, or get an offer to go coach somewhere else?  That way at least Taylor wouldn’t have had to pay the remaining 2 years of his contract.  That’s really the only guess I can come up with that makes any sense to me.  He should have been fired months ago because it was the normal and logical thing to do. It is one thing if Kahn still had faith in Rambis and intended on keeping him. But he didn’t.  The entire situation was really just incredibly bizarre. 

Mike: As CW said It is truly one of life’s great mysteries along the lines of runners now running in that weird velociraptor-like arm pose you see around the lakes these days (look for it, it’s weird and also fail to boot).  Whether or not all of this was “on Kahn” or not though remains to be seen. The fact remains that Kahn could hire Rick Adelman, solve the oil crisis, and end all major worldwide terrorist cells and the mainstream media (along with certain sister blog columnists) would still complain that he didn’t end world hunger. It is insane. Kahn has actually and laughably been ridiculed for scoring interviews with Larry Brown, Don Nelson, and Rick Adelman. I mean, what the hell is the problem here?

To be fair, though, I have been very anti-Kahn the past 12 months, even going as far as to argue extensively earlier this year that he is worse than McHale was. But thus far this offseason he has done well, bringing in Rubio, drafting Williams, and doing the best he could with pick #20. With that said, he has a very real opportunity to curry favor with Wolves fans who sport a more radical opinion. As for what happened with Rambis… who cares? He is gone now. Whatever happened behind the scenes probably had reason or justification beyond the scope of our understanding. The backlash may be partially deserved but I have a hard time believing Rambis was completely left out to dry. This is a situation involving $4 million in sunk cost for a business seeing heavy reds for the past half decade. Life freaking goes on. Oh CRAP we missed out on Coaching Great Lawrence Frank! 12/21/12 come early!

Please click “Read More” for the remaining questions and discussion…

2. Was firing Kurt Rambis a good or a bad decision, or somewhere in between?

CW: It was a great decision.  Rambis had obviously lost the team, and most fans didn’t think he had any idea as to what he was doing out there (he didn’t.)   He came preaching defense, working hard, developing players, and playing smart.  Instead, we had a Bermuda Triangle offense, one of the worst defenses in the entire league (hello wide open 3 pointers), pretty much no player development, nor did our team even play with anything resembling being “smart” at all.  We played with the fastest pace in the league, but our offense was terrible and incredibly inefficient.  And not only that, but we were the worst team in the league regarding Turnovers Committed.  You DON’T play with a fast pace if your offense is terrible and they turn the ball over too much.  That’s just a recipe for disaster, which is entirely what last season turned out to be.

Darrell Rhombus was a terrible fit all-around.  Just because he worked with the great Phil Jackson, doesn’t mean he assimilated all (or any) of his coaching acumen and intelligence.

Mike: FABULOUS decision. When the great Darrell Rhombus first came on board, I was thrilled with the hire. He was one of those guys who “would never come here in a million years.” I think many fans, myself included, didn’t quite grasp the fact that the triangle offense has only succeeded two times in NBA history, and failed many other times. It is a system built for a veteran team and a dominant scoring guard. Players hate the triangle. In Phil Jackson’s book, The Last Season he offers a few quips about Kobe hating the limitations the triangle presented. How could this work for a young team? 

So why was this celebrated when Rambis was hired? This seems so obvious in hindsight now, after two dreadful seasons. Another great mystery, such as why ketchup packets are so small.

Worse than the offense, as CW said, was our defense. Absolutely unacceptable. I mean, Ty Lawson, a notable average shooter, hit TEN consecutive threes on us late in the year, an all-time NBA record. Just one example. In our TWB survivor league, you could always rely on a 30 point survivor night from a role player playing against the Wolves due to three point shooting.

In his time here, Rambis had one of the worst two year NBA runs record-wise in the history of the entire league. He shoves his players into square holes rather than following the widely proven strength-building model of individual and team success. I have said this before, but I firmly believe even an average coach who instills a basic system and lights some fires every now again will net us a ten win improvement with no other changes. Rambis being fired will be more impactful on our 2012 win total than the additions of Rubio and Williams. Firing him was one of Kahn’s best moves; along with calling him a “great basketball man” twice on Bill Simmons’ podcast, lightly surpassing the now 2nd place “Kahn’s Mr. Rogers moment” of calling Kevin McHale a “very special person” after firing him two years ago. 

3. What type of system, on both ends, should the Wolves look to implement next season and beyond?

CW: Our offense was ok last year, we just committed way too many turnovers.  Rubio should help that situation out immensely; as less Puke Ridnour in crunch-time is a good thing, and no court time for Jonny Dribbles (EVER!) is a great thing.  One thing we do need to though is fast-break more often.  Our pace was super fast last year, but it wasn’t because of fast-breaking.  It was because we committed a ton of turnovers, and took too many bad shots too early in the possession.  With Love, Rubio, and our athletic wings, we should be able to effectively fast-break all day long.

But that starts with an effective defense.  You can’t fast-break very often unless you are getting stops on the defensive end. And that is problematic considering we were one of the worst defenses in the league (if not THE worst), under pretty much every metric except rebounding.  Teams like the Celtics and Heat could run effective fast-breaks because they first stopped the opposition on offense.  Getting stops leads to transition baskets, as long as your players are willing to run (which ours appear to be.)

I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I’m pretty confident that we were the worst team in the league when it came to opponents 3PT shooting percentage.  If not the worst, then we very close.  Rambis’ philosophy was to let the other team shoot wide-open threes, as we would pack the paint instead and try to stop them that way (I wish I was joking here.)  Because of that, teams got wide-open looks from deep all season long, and they usually tee’d off on us.  It was about as brutal as it sounds, if anyone reading this didn’t already know.

So to recap: on offense we need to competently fast-break, and on defense we just need to actually try (while guarding everyone on the other team.)  It’s not like either “system” is anything ground-breaking or overly ambitious/unreasonable; as they are entirely doable if we get a coach(es) that actually care.

M: Uptempo offense. Even though many mock it because it is what Kahn wants (so therefore it must be wrong), I am all about keeping the pace up. That is how the team is currently built and nobody can change that. I’m not so sure the grind-it-out style has much of a place in the league in the next five years as it is. I think uptempo will be the gold standard and that is okay with me. Look, the Wolves sure ain’t contending for a championship any time soon, so let’s make this a fun and enjoyable team to watch.

On defense, we have fresh, young legs. I’d like to see aggressive coverage on all areas of the court. We were killed constantly from the perimeter and I don’t think it was because our wing players lacked defensive ability and footspeed.

But overall, I want to see players given the freedom to do what they do best. It sounds simple, but this is how Rambis caused so much harm. I want Martell shooting 5-6 threes a game and not driving. I want Pekovic getting 8 FGA in the post per game. I want Darko facing up at the top of the key. I want Wes playing aggressive perimeter defense.

Think big picture. Is it or is it not a coincidence that every young player Rambis has coached seemingly busted? Is this Kahn’s drafting ability or these young, inexperienced probably-too-smiley men playing in a bunk system? Think about it. Was Chris Mullin this drafting guru or was Don Nelson’s freedom offense the primary reason so many young players have succeeded playing for him? Something to ponder at night. 

4. Who are your top 3 coaching candidates and why?

CW: At this point there are a lot of retreads out there when it comes to coaches (since KAAAAAAAAAN waited so long), and they don’t excite me too much overall.  I guess I’d say that Don Nelson would probably be the best choice amongst reasonable and realistic candidates that are still available.  He definitely fits the philosophy that Kahn has been preaching, and the roster he has assembled.  He’d make the Wolves infinitely more exciting and relevant, which is clearly a good thing (no one can convince me otherwise there.)  And our defense couldn’t possibly be worse than the past two seasons, even if he delegated the responsibilities to someone else.  I would have to think Nelson would make most of our guys better players, as we are so young and most of them have potential/skills.  Plus I think they’d all really enjoy playing his offensive ‘Run N Gun’ system.  Well… maybe everyone except poor Darko and Pekovic.  

Old Man Don probably isn’t the best candidate for the long-term viability of the franchise. But with that said, why not? It would be someone respectable and give us some legitimacy. Not like anyone else of his stature/achievements will take the job.

I’d love someone like Rick Adelman or Jerry Sloan, but again, I’m trying to be realistic here. I’d say there is about a 0.0000000000001% chance that either would ever coach here.

The only other guys left who really interest me all that much are Sam Mitchell and Mike Woodson.  I just think they are both “solid” to “good” coaches, and they both deserve another chance at a Head Coaching gig.  Woodson didn’t get enough recognition for the good things he accomplished in Atlanta (winning seasons and improving every year), and Sam Mitchell… well, he’s obviously just a huge stud. 

Prediction:
Regardless of what happens, we can probably count on Kahn doing whatever makes the least sense.  I highly doubt he/Glen Taylor opens up the wallet to hire someone esteemed (read: EXPENSIVE) like Don Nelson, Adelman, Larry Brown, etc.  Get ready for a middle tier retread, or an “up and comer” assistant trying to make a name for himself.  Egads.  Let’s just hope it goes better than the Darrell Rambis failure experiment.

M: Thus far to date, we know the following have interviewed: Terry Porter, Bernie Bickerstaff, Mike Woodson, Don Nelson, Rick Adelman (via phone), perhaps Sidney Lowe, and Larry Brown later this week. Looking at this list, the only one that would make me cringe would be Sid Lowe. The middle tier I could live with, and I would be thrilled to hire either Nelson or Adelman (Brown not so much). 

If I truly had to rank my three it would be 3. Brown, 2. Adelman, and 1. Nelson. Before people flame me for picking Nelson over Rick (and including Brown), I truly hope we can collectively rationalize a few things:

1. I am ranking based on known candidates.

2. I hope nobody reading this, regardless of what happened in Charlotte, would rather have Terry Porter than Larry Brown. Get real. Brown is basketball hall of famer. The guy would obviously do good things with our team.

3. Nelson and Adelman are a near tie. But this is a young team and I think Nellie ball is very well suited for young players. Nellie has developed a plethora of talent in this league from nowhere. He knows how to get the most out of his guys. This was so obviously lacking from our coaches these past few years a casual observer could have picked it out. However, if we hired Rick, I would be floored with excitement as well. Moreso then when we first ‘nabbed’ Rhombus ;).  

Either way, Kahn has scored interviews with three very, very high profile coaching candidates when no one else could. This is nothing to sneeze at. Our roster intrigues coaches and supersedes the sensationalized anti-Kahn slander going on. Where was Don Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history, (or Adelman and Brown for that matter) when all the other vacancies were being filled earlier this offseason? People want to coach Rubio. Legit coaching candidates want to see what a Love/Rubio core can do. This should make fans feel good about what we have.

Prediction: One of the middle tier guy gets hired, followed by a series of mushroom cloud posts here and elsewhere. If Kahn has proven anything it’s that he sure knows how to get the fanbase’s hopes up only to deliver little in the end. Taylor for that matter as well. We can spend $48 million on Darko/Pek/Ridnour, but $20 million on Nelson/Adelman is far too much money for our ownership. Woodson or Porter, IMO.

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