Finding the bottom in Minnesota

Not to put any added pressure on the Minnesota Timberwolves when they face the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center Monday night. Life already is tough enough – the Wolves have won just once on the road this season in 17 tries, they have lost five in a row overall (and their past two against the Clippers), and L.A.’s “other” NBA team is fresh off back-to-back successes at Detroit Friday and at Chicago Saturday.

But there is history to be reckoned with for Minnesota, too. Kurt Rambis, the ninth and latest head coach in Wolves franchise history, can achieve the sort of milestone Monday that he would rather avoid.

If Minnesota loses Monday, Rambis will match Jimmy Rodgers as the least successful Wolves coach ever. At 21-89 (.191) since the start of 2009-10, he has a 1/1000th edge in winning percentage over Rodgers, whose teams went 21-90 (.190) in 1991-92 and part of 1992-93.

Now, there might be legitimate reasons why Rambis has the Wolves winning at a pace comparable to their struggles in their third season of existence. He and president of basketball operations David Kahn have been determined to rebuild, remaking the roster and assembling now what most observers consider to be more talent — Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, even Darko Milicic — than in recent seasons.

Also Rambis has installed something resembling the triangle offense that he learned on the Lakers’ bench as an assistant to Phil Jackson with Tex Winter and there has been a pretty steep learning curve. Oh, and no Kobe Bryant to bail out broken possessions late in the shock clock, the way Michael Jordan did for Jackson and Winter in Chicago.

“The Lakers run the triangle and Minnesota runs it,” Bulls center Joakim Noah told me recently, “but the personnel is different, y’know.” Yeah, we know.

Still, this is a bottom-line business and the bottom line at the moment is this: Both Rodgers and Rambis took over bad Minnesota teams and steered them down from there.

Rodgers inherited a bunch that went 51-113 (.311) under Bill Musselman, including an overachieving 29-53 inaugural season in 1989-90. Before Rambis’ hiring, Randy Wittman and Kevin McHale coached the Wolves to a combined 46-118 (.280) in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Here is the roll call of Timberwolves head coaches – only one of whom, Flip Saunders, has a winning record or any playoffs appearances to his credit. (And he went 17-30 in playoff games and 2-8 in series with Minnesota.)

  • Flip Saunders (1995-2005), 411-326, .558
  • Dwane Casey (2005-2007), 53-69, .434
  • Kevin McHale (2005, 2008-09), 39-55, .415
  • Bill Musselman (1989-1991), 51-113, .311
  • Randy Wittman (2007-2008), 38-105, .266
  • Sidney Lowe (1993-1994), 33-102, .244
  • Bill Blair (1994-95), 27-75, .265
  • Kurt Rambis (2009-2010), 21-89, .191
  • Jimmy Rodgers (1991-1993), 21-90, .190




  1. […] wanted to bring this article to everyone's attention this morning, a nice write-up from former Wolves beat writer Steve […]

  2. ddddd says:

    Fred- did you watch the 08 Olympics at all? The kid can ball with the best of them and gave the US the closest thing to a challenge they saw. Rubio will have growing pains adjusting to the NBA as he is still just a tike in basketball age… as all international rookies and frankly all rookies period do. Ultimately barring injury or EGO (note the word ego) in a few years its Steve Nash 2.0. I just hope that the triangle gets ditched before he gets to the twin cities. The triangle does not fit Rubio’s game and is too complicated for the young guns of the Wolves to run effectively. Note how Derek Fisher, Ron Harper and other pg’s that Phil has had (exception being probably BJ) average less assists in the triangle than the average pg in the league, but yet still won championships in spite of that. I am willing to bet that if Nash for example were to go to LA that he would be awesome, but his assists would be cut in half due to the nature of the triangle stifling that part of his game. Nash is a runner and a gunner who does it on the fly half the game for easy buckets… Rubio plays the same way except his game is not refined yet.
    Darko is a special case. As far as the no 2 pick yeah hes a bust. 4 mil per season for what he has done so far is about fair market value with most centers in the league. The problem is that if you rattle him too much he is so fragile that he sulks so at this point the contract is almost untradeable given history. So no he is not going to ever be a star or worth what the rest of the 03 draft class is worth, but hes like Kwame Brown (only younger and different skill set) not worth the pick from back in the day…. but worth something due to his height and skill set.
    Minnesota is a few moves and retirements on other teams away from being relavant again… Dirk, Nash, TD, Kobe and I am pretty sure Pau are all in their 30s… The Blazers due to injurymania have to figure out how to blow it up. Denver is pretty much geared up to send Melo out of town… Who’s left in the west??? Just OKC and maybe Golden State once that all takes place… The only way that their cellar dormancy continues is if they screw up the plan or enough of the teams with an older soon to be retiring player pulls a San Antonio and finds diamonds in the rough to step in right away and not miss a beat. So yeah the wolves suck now and probably will until the west gets grey, but I can see a bright OKC style future in the wolves future.

  3. BT says:

    Wolves fix – retraction

  4. Mystic says:

    @gwallan: Because that .415 includes the games McHale coached in 2005 — when Minnesota still had KG. He was 19-12 over that span.

    They were talking about how the team has done in the years they were rebuilding, and prior to the latest coach. Wittman coached 2007 and part of 2008, McHale coached the rest of 2008 and part of 2009. 2005, when they had KG and weren’t rebuilding, isn’t relevant.

  5. Fred says:

    By the way, ricky rubio is overrated…just saying…
    he is not physically fit enough to play in the NBA…
    like I say with most players coming from other countries…
    no matter how fast and athletic you are over seas…
    NBA has the best pure athletes around…
    there is no way you can compete in the NBA with pure talent and potential…
    if you are known as a dunker in anywhere but US…
    once you reach US…u will notice that everyone jumps higher than you…
    thats a fact…and thats coming from someone outside US…
    ive seen it time and time again…he does not have the court vision nor is he fast compared to really fast players like rondo, rose, westbrook…heck blake griffin can out run him…

  6. Tenki says:

    What am I seeing? Slugging percentages in baseball? These numbers are pretty high for a bat swinger, and he must be feared when he steps on the plate. But this is BASKETBALL, and these numbers are very awful, if not pathetic. What’s with the franchise? Can’t they repeat their success when KG was still playing for them?

    I think the problem here lies with the GMs of the franchise. It’s taking them too long to rebuild since KG was traded to Boston, Ricky Rubio is having his year in Europe, and they spent a lot on a player more famous as the number two pick at the 2003 draft class and not living up to it.

  7. gwallan says:

    Wittman and McHale combined? Why present it in that way?
    McHale’s record is .415
    Just sayin’