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