With the Timberwolves in town tonight, it's no surprise conversation Thursday in El Segundo was centered largely around Kurt Rambis, formerly an assistant in L.A. and now the head man in Minny, and the heaping pile of 14-win traveling sadness that is his team. Put kindly, the Wolves are a work in progress, and high points have been hard to find. Minnesota lost 15 of its first 16 opening the season, and just to show it wasn't a fluke are currently riding an 11 game losing streak.
Nobody expected the Wolves to be good, but the results aren't any fun for Rambis or Phil Jackson, who expressed sympathy for his former deputy. "They’re really struggling right now," PJ said. "They’re at a part of the season where all you’re playing for is respect and pride, or whatever personally you can get going, and for your team. There’s no place to go, and no playoffs to make. So it’s tough to grind it out.
I asked how hard it is for a coach to go from a championship atmosphere to... well, not. Jackson believes Rambis is well-equipped to handle the situation. "Kurt’s had a real good mindset towards that. He always has. He went to an expansion team after playing with the Lakers, and that expansion team did pretty well. They won twenty-something games I think Charlotte did, in that first season. (Note: If by "twenty-something" Phil meant "twenty," he was spot on.) And he ended up being on a Sacramento team that had some issues later on in his career before finally getting into assistant coaching," Jackson said. "Having been there myself on a team as an assistant coach on a team that lost 15 in a row, you see the heads drop and issues start with individual players and things happening where it becomes excuses after excuses because losing is very hard to do in this game. Particularly when everything is generated out of winning. So it’s got to be about individual things, like one quarter time of play, or let’s find a way to have fun in practice so it doesn’t become drudgery."
"Every day becomes an issue."
For more from Jackson and the accompanying video, click below.
Asked what he thinks Rambis' hardest adjustment has been, Jackson couldn't narrow it down to one side of the ball, but focused not on win totals but the absence of quality defense.
"Basically Kurt was kind of coordinating our defense last year, and I think that’s probably been one of the hardest parts, dealing with a team defensively that has got their difficulties," Jackson said. "They may be behind Golden State and Phoenix and some (other, lesser) teams defensively, and I know that’s where he takes a lot of pride in coaching. So I think that’s been a real hard part of it. The other part is, I think every time I listen to it some commentator is making some comment about the triangle offense, (that it’s) difficult to coach or difficult to play or something, which it really isn’t. There’s a number of other offenses that are difficult. This seems to be like a weight for them to have to carry."