Announcing the worst-kept secret in sports, the Timberwolves on Tuesday finally, officially fired coach Kurt Rambis and set out to find a replacement more attuned to their players and more genetically predisposed to create the kind of fast-break basketball David Kahn said he envisioned when constructing the team's talented and painfully young roster.
Nearly three months after season's end, Kahn informed Rambis' agent Monday morning after he failed to persuade the owner of eight NBA title rings as a player, coach and executive to serve out the remaining two seasons -- and $4 million left on his contract -- in a front-office position.
Kahn, the Wolves' president of basketball operations, vowed the drawn-out process wasn't due to the money still owed Rambis or the shadow cast by the current labor lockout. Rather, he said it took so long because he wanted to make "absolutely certain" the team made the right decision in terminating a coach he signed to a guaranteed four-year deal only two summers ago.
He also said money from owner Glen Taylor won't be a factor in "aggressively" pursuing replacements for Rambis and quite possibly assistant coaches Bill Laimbeer, Reggie Theus and Dave Wohl. All three assistants have a year remaining on their contracts and could be given a courtesy interview with the new coach and perhaps reassigned to front-office jobs for that year.
"People can argue, 'This should have happened,' or 'That should have happened,'" Kahn said. "I recognize it took a long time. That's on me. I realize that it can look more convoluted and complicated than maybe it really is, and that's on me. But I also want to keep my vision on trying to do the right thing."
Ultimately, he decided starting anew was that right thing for a team that went 32-132 in two seasons under Rambis and lost its final 15 games last season, even if his handling of the matter might give potential candidates pause to consider the job.
Rambis thanks Taylor, not Kahn
Rambis released a statement to the Associated Press but otherwise did not return phone messages left Tuesday.
He said he was grateful for the opportunity Wolves owner Glen Taylor gave him, did not mention Kahn's name and said he was thankful for the chance to shape a franchise he said has a bright future.
"During my years working with coaches [Phil] Jackson, [Pat] Riley and [Cotton] Fitzsimmons, I learned all about the ups and downs of this sport," Rambis said. "And today is one of the down days."
Kahn said he had received interest from seven or eight coaches in the three hours between the time the team announced Rambis' firing and he held a midafternoon news conference.
"I think at the end of the day people look at the roster and it gives them a lot of optimism and enthusiasm for where this position could go in the next several years," he said.
The Wolves played at the NBA's fastest pace last season and nightly displayed a disdain for any form of defense. Kahn said he made the change to find a coach who can "really connect with" what was the league's youngest team last season, a coach who will implement a style of play "that befits the roster."
He said he wants a fast-paced, entertaining style "on both ends of the floor" because that's what fans want to watch and what players want to play, particularly in a cold, snowy market that Kahn previously has said he wants to make the "happiest place on Earth."
"It's important we find someone whose DNA is uptempo," he said. "Someone whose DNA is, 'That's how I coached, that's how my teams have played, that's how I believe we should play,' because we've carefully built this roster to play this style.''
News was expected
Tuesday's news surprised no one, particularly not Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver.
"Not at all, just because of everything that has been going on," he said. "All the rumors: One day it's all over the news that he's fired and the next day he's not. How can you keep somebody on after all that?
"... I've been a supporter of Kurt since Day 1. What it does is bring resolution for Kurt. I'm glad for him that it's resolved one way or the other, so that he's able to move on."
Kahn will move on as well, and make the NBA's 20th coaching change since he hired Rambis in August 2009.
The last time he hired a coach, Kahn had just drafted two point guards with the fifth and sixth overall picks and then chose a coach who ran a system that doesn't emphasize that position.
Somebody asked Kahn on Tuesday why he has earned the right after the past two seasons to hire another coach.
"I don't know that there's a finishing school that I could attend that could do that," he said. "Nineteen of 'em have been hired and fired since we last did it. I wish it was easier to do. I feel certainly the weight of having to do this. I don't want to say this at Kurt's expense, but obviously we need to do it better than the last one."