After years spent playing under Pat Riley and coaching under Phil Jackson, Kurt Rambis is finally getting a chance to run a team.
Rambis has been hired as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in hopes of transforming a struggling franchise into a contender. Terms were not disclosed, but the team said Monday that they have an agreement. Rambis will be introduced Tuesday.
The 51-year-old Rambis has been an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers for most of the past seven seasons. He won four titles as a player with the Lakers in the 1980s and two more as an assistant coach, including last season when he served as the team's defensive coordinator.
Rambis was one of three finalists along with TV commentator and former NBA star Mark Jackson and Houston assistant Elston Turner. He will replace Kevin McHale, who was let go by Minnesota on June 17.
"This arguably is the most important decision I will make, and thus it required a lot of time," said David Kahn, who was hired in May to run the team's basketball operations. "His reputation around the league is that he is a wonderful teacher who is hands-on on the court and one who understands that part of our business and will really energize it."
The teaching reference is not a throwaway. Kahn also said he believes Rambis is a natural fit to mold the "young" Timberwolves, who have not made the playoffs since 2004 and won just 24 games last season.
Rambis' work in player development was one of the biggest reasons Kahn chose him. At a press conference, Kahn said the three most important criteria he was looking for in a coach were an emphasis on player development, an up-tempo philosophy and a willingness to play the young players on the team big minutes _ even if it means sacrificing a few wins in the process.
Those are bold challenges for any coach in a league that often measures coaching stints in months, not years. But Kahn said it is his mission to make the Timberwolves "recognized around the league as the leaders in player development."
"He does understand that we may have to sacrifice some short-term results for the long-term vision as we grow this young nucleus as quickly as can be," Kahn said.
Long considered a possible heir apparent to Jackson in LA, Rambis filled in on several occasions while the coach was out with medical issues. He also served as the head coach in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, going 24-13. That experience gave him the edge over Mark Jackson, who has never been a coach.
Rambis also interviewed for positions in Sacramento and Philadelphia this offseason.
He takes over in Minnesota for McHale, the man who famously clotheslined him while playing for the Boston Celtics in the 1984 Finals.
"Kurt has been the workhorse of my staff the past few years," Phil Jackson said in a statement issued by the Lakers. "He's worked with the youth of our team, coming in early and staying late, to help players develop.
"Last season he took on the responsibility as the defensive coordinator, a valuable part of our championship run. We will miss him, but know this is his time to do what he's destined to do."
With Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn and, eventually, Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves do have a young core that they think they can build upon and they strive back toward respectability. With so many young players on the roster, Kahn wants Rambis to employ a run-and-gun style of play that Rambis is intimately aware of dating to his days playing for the showtime Lakers in the 1980s.
Kahn said was looking for a coach who "had that philosophy in their bones, and I think Kurt does."