During a press conference some time ago, Minnesota Timberwolves POBO David Kahn stated that he wanted the Timberwolves to lead the league in player development. The angle that he was getting at was that the Wolves would be the poster child of developing youth into NBA stars and ultimately turning the Wolves into a winner.
Head coach Kurt Rambis seemed like the perfect hire at the time. After all, he was a winner on the court and on the sideline. He played against some of the best in NBA history, and he also had coached some of the best players and teams in NBA history from an assistant coach position. If anyone sounded like they could develop young raw athletic players into fine tuned NBA stars, it sure sounded like Rambis.
Their philosophy on paper sounded fantastic, get a bunch of young athletic guys with potential and watch them blossom in two to three years. But the coaching staff and the play on the court would suggest otherwise.
It would start to come out that the coaching staff were never on the same page. Rambis couldn't have hired a defensive specialist because the Wolves were the worst defensive team in the league, and he was dreadful in drawing up plays at the last minute.
The Wolves led the league in turnovers and were the worst defensive team in the league. Those two go hand in hand.
"You can't turn the ball over and play good defense at the same time. It just doesn't work that way."-Lionel Hollins
When I hear the words "player development" in basketball, I never thought of teams using a complex offense that would take players outside of their comfort zone for the sake of player development.
For instance, if Wes Johnson is an athletic finisher and a great spot up shooter, you do not put the ball in his hands to make decisions. If Michael Beasley is a great post up scorer, than you put him in the post.
Because it gives those players the best chance to succeed, and half of the NBA game is confidence. If young players don't have confidence that they can play their game, then they are going to have trouble excelling in the league. Players lose confidence when they start losing.
Kevin Love is a top 10 player in the NBA, and we can argue this to death. He's a top player in almost every single statistic. He, on his own, could do what he does in just about any offense. Love is far from his prime, and he needs work on the defensive end, but his intangibles are there.
In retrospect, the offense that Kurt Rambis designed could be a teaching tool, but the fact of the matter is, development comes from winning basketball games. If your team wins 65 games, how much more development do you need? If your team wins 17 games, you have either two options.
- Develop raw young talent and hope that they become great players
- Get new players
It's really not that complicated.
Looking at young teams like Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies, there are some common factors between them. They have essentially the same core of players that they had two to three years ago.
Their players were raw, young and athletic. Because those players have the continuity and the talent accompanied with their coaching staff, it was only a matter of time before they got better. Now they look like the future in the Western Conference.
The difference between those teams and the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Well you could make the argument that the talent level isn't that far off from the OKC Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Minnesota Timberwolves do have a growing superstar in Kevin Love, a potential all-star in Michael Beasley, Ricky Rubio waiting in the midst of a season overseas and not to mention, Wes Johnson. The glaring difference is the coach.
Kurt Rambis isn't exactly Zen Master 2 when it comes to drawing up plays, but it makes no sense as to why the Minnesota Timberwolves haven't won more games in the past.
The Wolves core two years ago was Kevin Love, Al Jefferson and Jonny Flynn.
Why in the world didn't the Wolves run straight pick and rolls with Jefferson, Love and Flynn?
It's clear to understand why that team didn't at least win 25 games with that kind of rebounding and offensive firepower. They didn't run pick and rolls!
Rambis didn't put his players in a position to succeed, and that is ultimately the reason why the Wolves underachieved.
Don't get me wrong, David Kahn is just as much to blame, but Kahn hasn't done an overly ugly job of stockpiling talent. Rambis is not a bad coach, but if he couldn't understand these types of things, then it's clear that he doesn't understand player development.
I reiterate, player development is not going to be achieved by putting your players in uncomfortable positions. You put players in comfortable positions to put your team in a comfortable position to win games. Then you hope that those players continue to expand their game.
Do you really expect him to continue to develop overseas without the ball in his hands? If he does not have the ball, don't expect him to develop and put up numbers.
After all I've just said, I never mentioned that the Wolves had turnover issues, inefficient scorers, inconsistent play and unmotivated nights accompanied by dumb mistakes. If there is a quick fix to this involving Rambis, it's him changing his offensive sets and hiring a new coaching staff. Defensive specialists across the board and the offense will take care of itself.
If the Wolves are to truly lead the league in player development, they need to relay to Rambis that the team needs to win.
How do you win with the current roster and Rubio?
Put the ball in Rubio's hands, run pick and rolls with Kevin Love, put Beasley in the post and run Wes Johnson off of screens and backdoor cuts.
On the defensive end, work on your defensive intangibles. Rotations, footwork, vocalization, and most of all, hustle, hustle, hustle! If that happens, then the Wolves are looking at winning 30 plus games next season.
Timber Wolf is a Analyst for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @ Timb3r_Wolf.