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Without bad luck, Wolves would have no luck at all
The Minnesota Timberwolves‘ front office hasn’t been good for a while. Turns out they’re not very lucky, either. Some surprise.
A half-dozen lousy seasons, punctuated by flat-out embarrassing 15- and 17-win totals back to back, has yielded a handful of trade and draft opportunities at which the club swung and _ how to put it kindly? _ missed. So maybe it figured that when the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft fell to the team, it happened to be the same year the talent pool was so shallow there likely isn’t a real No. 1.
But it gets worse.
Minnesota won’t have a head coach anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the draft is concluded. Kurt Rambis has done just about everything to deserve the pink slip _ lose (32-132 record; including 15 in a row), employ the wrong schemes and aggravate his best players. But not the way it’s being handed out.
Team President David Kahn didn’t just let Rambis dangle since the season mercifully ended, he gave him an assignment _ prepare a detailed report of how he planned to overhaul the team. It’s something Kahn isn’t likely to bother reading before almost certainly firing him anyway.
The way negotiations between owners and the union are trending, chances are good there will be a lockout less than two weeks from now. For some franchises, league-wide chaos would be a welcome chance to regroup. Not the T-Wolves. If Kahn’s brief stewardship is any indication, they’re too far ahead in that department to be overtaken anytime soon.
Blaming all this on Kahn, though, requires setting your sights too low. He’s received more than his fair share of scorn, deservedly so. But he only arrived on the scene in May 2009, and ending Kevin McHale’s disastrous tenure a month later earned him a reservoir of goodwill. So another way to think about what a bad run it’s been _ besides the paltry win total _ is how quickly Kahn has managed to drain it.
His boss, owner Glen Taylor, rebuilt the franchise once, largely by green-lighting the 1995 draft decision that brought Kevin Garnett to Minnesota and then hiring Flip Saunders as coach. But he also presided over the dysfunctional end of the era that concluded with Garnett’s trade to Boston in July 2007, and he’s starting to close the gap on Clippers owner Donald Sterling as perhaps the most clueless boss in the NBA.
No sooner did the T-Wolves get some good news last week _ 2009 top pick Ricky Rubio decided to leave his Barcelona club and the Spanish league behind _ than Kahn broke his monthlong silence on Rambis‘ fate. He essentially announced he would let his coach live with ulcers for at least another week. Small wonder the T-Wolves have lost fans in droves, or that they’re forced to offer season-ticket packages at $4.50 per seat per game in a bid to buy those fans back.
Some years, the draft is so chock-full at the top that one player makes all that bumbling easy to forget, or at least forgive. But about the only thing scouts and draft geeks agree on this year is that there’s no Kevin Garnett, or Kevin Durant for that matter, available.
So even with versatile forward Derrick Williams from Arizona joining the fold Thursday night, it’s hard to imagine the franchise getting turned around as long as Kahn has a hand on the wheel.
For starters, the shabby treatment afforded Rambis could make his successor skittish. According to news reports, University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar got cold feet and Portland Trailblazers’ assistant Bernie Bickerstaff is atop a short list. Bickerstaff might be an upgrade from Rambis, but he’s been a less than dazzling 414-512 while in charge of the Bobcats, Wizards, Nuggets and SuperSonics.
Besides, Bickerstaff isn’t expected to hang around very long, either. His most attractive quality, apparently, is being the father of current Timberwolves assistant J.B. Bickerstaff, who, by some accounts, has been dubbed the “coach-in-waiting.”
Whoever gets the job is going to be busy. He’s also likely to be saddled with a roster that, in addition to lacking talent, has too many players stacked up at the same positions. As if that wasn’t tough enough, Kahn will be looking over his shoulder _ with the owner peering just as closely over Kahn‘s.
Can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
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