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Kurt Rambis can't wait, as he takes job in Minnesota

Rambis, who says Phil Jackson could coach the Lakers 'five or six years,' inherits a young Timberwolves team with plenty of issues.

August 12, 2009|Mark Medina

Seize the opportunity, or wait for a better deal?

That was the question for Kurt Rambis as he considered whether to accept a head coaching position with the Minnesota Timberwolves, or to wait indefinitely in hope of becoming Phil Jackson's successor with the Lakers.

Despite spending 10 seasons as an assistant to the Lakers, Rambis chose the former option. He accepted a four-year deal to become the franchise's ninth head coach, succeeding Kevin McHale, who clotheslined him during the 1984 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.

Rambis filled in at times as coach of the Lakers because of medical issues involving Jackson, who briefly floated the idea that Rambis could assume coaching duties on various trips in the 2009-10 season. Although Jackson, who turns 64 in September, is in the last year of his contract worth $12 million, Rambis said Tuesday in a conference call he remained unsure of the succession plan.

"I saw myself as a viable candidate, above many and equal to most, but this was a timing thing," said Rambis, who won four championships in his nine-year playing career with the Lakers.

"They made me no promises. Phil is a competitor. He loves coaching that team right now and they are built to win for a long time. I envision him being there for a long time."

Rambis predicted Jackson -- barring any health issues -- is "fully capable of coaching for five or six years on that team."

Rambis inherits a 24-58 Timberwolves team with several issues to resolve.

There are negotiations involving a buyout with guard Ricky Rubio and his Spanish team. There are questions whether Rambis can accelerate the maturation of a team whose roster averages about four years of NBA experience.

There is uncertainty about how long the public will tolerate a rebuilding project.

Mindful of those challenges, Rambis points to his interim head coaching experience in 1999 with the Lakers as proof he can handle adversity.

In that season, he took over after the Lakers fired Del Harris and finished 25-13. He juggled handling the antics of Dennis Rodman and the butting heads of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

"A lot was thrown at me," Rambis said. "It was an invaluable learning experience."

Although it might be difficult for Rambis to leave the Lakers, he felt right at home with the Timberwolves, said his agent, Lon Rosen.

"He really hit it off with the owner of the Timberwolves and their president of basketball operations," Rosen said. "They gave him a personal commitment with a long-term contract and assurances that they are building for the future. But it was a tough decision for Kurt to leave the organization that gave him his start, not to mention coaching alongside Phil Jackson."

Rambis' other coaching options this summer weren't enticing enough to bypass a chance to succeed Jackson. This time was different.

Said Rambis: "You can sit down and hope and wait for something to come along, or you can jump at an opportunity."

Gasol says finger injury 'not serious'

Lakers forward Pau Gasol told reporters in Spain that he expects to play in the European championships, beginning Sept. 7, despite suffering what the Lakers described as a "torn volar plate" in his left index finger while practicing with the Spanish national team.

"We obviously know how important it is for him to play for Spain," Lakers spokesman John Black said.

"As long as there's not a risk of him furthering the injury, we don't have a concern."

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mark.medina@latimes.com

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