MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Kurt Rambis is walking around with a noticeably lighter step these days.
His first season as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves went about as poorly as it could possibly go, with 67 losses grinding on both the players and the coaches who were hired about six weeks before training camp began.
“I am happier this year,” Rambis said. “What aggravated me most last year was we didn’t have the right pieces. The puzzle pieces just didn’t fit.”
As the team prepared for the second season under Rambis and President David Kahn, the coach had far more input in the makeup of the roster this time around. He was in the draft room in June when they selected Wes Johnson and Lazar Hayward and traded for Martell Webster.
He was in on the discussions to add free agent point guard Luke Ridnour, trade for forward Michael Beasley, re-sign center Darko Milicic and trade centerpiece Al Jefferson.
The result is a roster that is much more in line with the way Rambis wants to play in Minnesota _ up tempo on offense, maximum effort on defense and with a bevy of young players who fit in multiple positions.
“We have the pieces now that fit better,” Rambis said.
The Timberwolves went 6-2 in the preseason, an encouraging sign for a team that has watched its fan base erode over five seasons of dysfunction and losing. But just how well this revamped roster really fits together will start to be seen on Wednesday night, when the Wolves host the Sacramento Kings in the season opener.
The additions of Beasley, Johnson, Webster, Anthony Tolliver and Nikola Pekovic have made the Wolves a much deeper, and taller, team. Nine of the 14 players who stand to see significant minutes are 6-foot-7 or taller, an upgrade that Rambis and Kahn made a priority heading into the summer.
“You go down the roster, and there’s not a player I’m not happy with,” Rambis said.
And despite all the new faces this year, there seems to be a better cohesion between players and coaches this time around. With all the losing last year, Rambis occasionally found it difficult to get his message across to some of his players and convince them that his system would work.
Kevin Love groused about coming off the bench. Jonny Flynn resisted the transition from a pick-and-roll point guard with a scorer’s mentality to Rambis’s style of being a passer and facilitator first.
This fall, Flynn has been out with a hip injury and was just cleared to start practicing on Tuesday. But Love looks poised for a breakout season coming off a gold medal run with Team USA at the world championships, and Beasley has given the coach an early vote of confidence after coming over in a trade from Miami.