The Los Angeles Lakers are not the only NBA organization that Kurt Rambis has ever been affiliated with, although it sometimes seems that way. He first joined the team as a free agent in 1980 and now is approaching a career crossroads—again.
What comes next for a guy often seen as a Lakers lifer? According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, the former power forward once dubbed “Superman” for his Clark Kent glasses and all-out hustle will be one of several candidates to be interviewed for the Lakers coaching position vacated by Mike D’Antoni.
Rambis has worn a lot of hats over 25 seasons with the Lakers—player, executive, assistant coach, interim head coach and back to assistant again. He once seemed to be the heir apparent to Phil Jackson but instead left the team’s umbrella to become head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The two-year triangle experiment was a bold but total disaster and could have sealed his fate as a head coach in the NBA—it’s one thing to have a losing record and another thing altogether to do it as a Jackson disciple who has the audacity to try and duplicate the triple-post magic on his own.
In case you haven’t heard, the triangle offense has never caught on in the NBA apart from Jackson’s 11 rings. Similarly, the imperial Jackson himself was never a favorite among the coaching fraternity, and that has had a ripple-down effect among his assistants.
Rambis spent a year as an ESPN analyst and was front and center as Jackson’s chief cheerleader during that intoxicatingly brief moment in November 2012 when it appeared that the Zen Master would be returning for a third time after Mike Brown’s firing in hopes of achieving some triangular destiny with a superteam comprised of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace.
Of course, the miracle never happened. D’Antoni was hired instead, prompting Rambis to lash out at an organization he had spent so many years serving, per Sam Amick for USA Today:
If you’re talking about having success and having this team and someone who knows how to guide a team to an NBA title, Phil is that guy. There’s no second, third, fourth or fifth choice at this point in time. He’s that guy. I don’t know if Jim Buss knows one system from another in terms of how it fits with players, or what works best for players, or what’s the difference between them.
As we now know, the 2012-13 season didn’t go so great and ended with Bryant undergoing Achilles surgery and Howard signing with the Houston Rockets as a free agent.
It was a stunner to many, then, when Rambis was hired as an assistant coach under D’Antoni at the start of the 2013-14 regular season. Why was he there? How on earth did his defense-oriented sensibilities fit in with a small-ball iconoclast?
In an interview with Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, Rambis himself expressed surprise: “Mike D’Antoni came to me several weeks ago and asked if I’d be interested in the job. Quite frankly, I was a little bit shocked about that, and for him, he said it was a no-brainer, and I jumped on it right away. I said, ‘This would be great, I think it would work out well for both of us.’”
Whether it worked out for both of them is still an open question, but things certainly didn’t end so well for D’Antoni who recently resigned after achieving the worst loss record in Lakers history at 27-55.
Rambis spent most of that time watching impassively from the sidelines as injuries piled up, Bryant and Gasol griped and an endless rotation of minimum-salary gunners jacked up shots incessantly from beyond the arc.
It’s been a long, strange trip for the guy who was raised in Cupertino, California, and graduated from Santa Clara University. Rambis was drafted by the New York Knicks and waived during training camp. After playing overseas in Greece, he signed with the Lakers and subsequently won four rings as a player during the Showtime era and three more as an assistant under Jackson.
He’s always returned to sunny SoCal, however, and has enjoyed good relationships with such key Laker figures as Pat Riley, Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak and the entire Buss family from patriarch Jerry down to his kids—despite that onetime public scolding of Jimmy.
Even his wife, Linda, is part of the Purple and Gold as one of Jeanie’s closet friends and the team’s manager of special projects.
Most people arrive at a major crossroads just once in their life. Rambis seems to cruise through with great regularity. The chance to be a head coach can be more elusive, however.
A pioneering power forward who played with reckless abandon and regularly left it all on the floor, he’ll have some choices this summer. He won’t be seen as the leading contender for the Lakers coaching job but will get some serious consideration—he’s earned that much.
If he doesn’t get it, what will he do? Head to New York and work in some capacity for Jackson? Stay on in Los Angeles and forever be labeled as an assistant? Or choose some new path altogether?
Lifetime Laker fans will be watching to see what happens next with Superman.