In 1960, the city of Los Angeles pilfered the Lakers basketball franchise from Minneapolis. The latter's revenge has been a long time coming, but this offseason Minnesotans may finally succeed in evening the score. Ken Berger of CBS Sports has reported that Kurt Rambis, the Timberwolves' awful coach, "appears to be on his way out." The firing of Rambis would set him loose on the basketball world, and to the speechless terror of Laker fans everywhere, rumors persist that Rambis might be given a look as a possible replacement for coach Phil Jackson should the Zen Master step down after this season, as he's promised to do. Though long-suffering Minnesota fans might view this an appropriately karmic form of retribution, the towering ramparts of Lakerdom must be defended against such an atrocity.
On a basic, rational level, it's hard to comprehend why the Lakers' front office would even consider hiring Rambis as head coach. How could someone who's just been dumped by one of the worst franchises in the NBA be qualified to manage the very best? It's like someone who can't run a teller window at the Money Store applying to become Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
And yet, the idea's floating around out there like an airborne spore, invisible but toxic. Last week, Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "the timing could be right for a Lakers-Rambis reunion." The OC Register's highly respected Kevin Ding has likewise written that Rambis "could return to the pool of [Laker] candidates" if the T-Wolves cashier him. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports maintains that Laker assistant Brian Shaw is the leader to replace Jackson (woo hoo!) but concedes that Rambis's name may come up (d'oh!).
Just so we're totally clear: this is insane. Whenever Jackson retires, the Lakers will have their choice of A-list coaching names. They could go with Shaw, an esteemed and intelligent young coach who's worked at Jackson's side for years and enjoys the respect of the Lakers' locker room. They could look outside the organization at an accomplished former head man like Jeff Van Gundy. They could even make a play for a superstar from the college ranks, as they did in 2004, when they tried to hire Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Each of these options is superior to hiring a guy like Rambis, whose resumé drips with failure.
As coach of the Timberwolves, Rambis has compiled the princely record of 32 wins and 121 losses. Granted, won-loss record isn't a perfect measure of coaching performance, since NBA coaches for the most part don't get to pick their own players. And it's true that Rambis has been forced to work with a roster that's both young and flawed. But an excuse isn't the same as accomplishment, and Rambis has failed monumentally in his responsibility to get the most out of Minnesota's talent.
From the beginning, he demonstrated horrible tactical instincts by foisting the Triangle offense -- a complex system that even veterans take years to master -- on young players whose skills and experience level were ill suited to it. His eye for talent hasn't been much more better. Kevin Love is the second-best player the Timberwolves have ever had, and Rambis basically had to be shamed into starting him. Other promising youngsters like Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and Corey Brewer have failed to develop on his watch.
Still more damning is how Rambis's team appears to have abandoned him, and vice versa. On Sunday night the Timberwolves got annihilated at home by the Sacramento Kings, who themselves are one of the four or five worst teams in captivity. SB Nation's Timberwolves blog, Canis Hoopus, was understandably driven to sputtering outrage by the egregious lack of effort:
How many more ways does this club have to display stunning levels of across-the-board incompetence before... what, exactly? This team flat-out quit. It flat-out quit for a coach who flat-out quit on them. Will somebody please grant Rambis' wish to get back to California as soon as possible, as he clearly has zero interest in this team, its players, and its fans?
The most galling recent episode, however, came after the Timberwolves' loss to the Lakers last Friday night. During the game, Wolves forward Michael Beasley got hammered by Andrew Bynum on a drive to the hoop in an incident that resulted in a "flagrant two" foul on Bynum, his ejection from the contest and a two-game suspension from the league. It was an unambiguously dirty hit, and no one should've been the least bit surprised that the league cracked down on Drew. But let's see what Rambis had to say about it....
I know Andrew, he wasn't going up to do anything malicious. He was just going to protect the basket. So I think he was making a good basketball play out of it.
Dude... what?!? The reason the play drew a flagrant two and a suspension is that Bynum was very clearly not just protecting the basket. He didn't make a play on the ball and instead leveled Beasley with a forearm shiver. It was pretty much the direct opposite of a "good basketball play."
More to the point, what kind of coach doesn't stick up for his player in this situation? What happened to defending your own? Even Mitch Kupchak concedes that Bynum deserved at least a one-game suspension. But Beasley's own coach goes out of his way to endorse Bynum's head-hunting?
Rambis's comment was at best tone-deaf and at worst an act of conscious disloyalty. He may well know that he's gone at the end of the year, and he may feel that getting back on the Lakers' payroll means saying nice things about his old team, whatever effect that may have on the players he's still being paid to coach. If so, it's craven, cynical, repellent behavior.
I can see why Timberwolves fans want this guy gone. But nostalgia for the Showtime Era shouldn't dupe the Lakers' front office into hiring a coach who's dangerously unqualified for the job. The current edition of the Lakers might someday be remembered every bit as fondly as Showtime, but to reach that point will require a coach whose talents go beyond sucking up to his former employers.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.