HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Kurt Rambis is back with his beloved Los Angeles Lakers — not reunited with Phil Jackson, but aligned with Mike D’Antoni — as the Hollywood subplots thicken yet again [insert suspenseful organ music here].
On the surface, Rambis is a great hire. He’s had three previous stints with the team he won four championships with, playing the role of the blue-collar banger, the garbage man on a team of stars. Known for being more of a defensive mind, he should serve well his new boss who has been a little light on ‘D’ wherever he’s been and will never make it as a Tom Thibodeau stunt double.
On Monday, the Lakers announced the hiring of Rambis and longtime assistant Johnny Davis. Earlier in the month, Mark Madsen was elevated as a member of D’Antoni’s revamped staff for the mystery that is the 2013-14 season.
“Kurt is a great basketball mind, extremely good at working with big men and his experience as a head coach in this league is going to prove very helpful to our staff,” D’Antoni said in statement.
Rambis went 32-132 in two seasons at Minnesota, but, after all, that was with those Timberwolves. But Rambis did go 24-13 with the Lakers after Del Harris got the boot following a 6-6 start to that lockout-shortened season. Jackson began his first L.A. run the next season.
Rambis’ latest return to the Lakers comes eight months after he first unpacked his whiteboard. Five games into last season and Rambis was set to check out of both his ESPN and local L.A. analyst chairs for a red-carpet return to the bench. When the Lakers canned Mike Brown it certainly appeared that the great one — ”11 Rings” Jackson — would descend from the Montana mountaintop and right-hand Rambis would be right behind him.
“They had told Phil that it was his job [in a Saturday interview], that he was their first choice, and they agreed to wait until Monday … to allow him time to digest whether or not he felt he was, in fact, the right coach to come and coach this team,” Rambis told USA TODAY Sports on Nov. 12. “And, in fact, his agent [Todd Musburger] flew into town — he’s here from Chicago — to start negotiations. So Phil had made his mind up that he wanted to coach this team. Somewhere between Saturday afternoon, when Phil and I had a conversation, and Sunday night, the Laker organization made a complete 180-degree turn.”
In the ugly aftermath, Rambis wasn’t shy about criticizing D’Antoni’s coaching from whichever analyst chair he occupied.
Now, he’s just happy to be a member of D’Antoni’s staff, as he tweeted Monday.
At D’Antoni’s last stop, he also made a mid-stint hire to bring in the more defensive-set Mike Woodson from the Atlanta Hawks prior to the 2011-12 season. Seven months later, the embattled D’Antoni resigned and Woodson was named interim coach, and later had the interim tag removed.
D’Antoni hiring Rambis can be interpreted as a smart move to bring in a longtime Kobe Bryant ally, a decision some might say reveals a flexible side to the coach when he’s so often criticized for inexplicable rigidity. Or it can be viewed as management’s way of moving in a ready-made interim in case things dip in a southerly direction and smoke signals must go out to Jackson.
Or, maybe this interesting hire simply indicates the Lakers are moving to sign another Rambis guy from his past Lakers days — Lamar Odom.