Bill Laimbeer has been as successful a coach in the WNBA as has been seen — his teams have won three titles in six years. He’s direct and harsh in an old-school kind of way that has served him well in the WNBA.
Just don’t expect to see him back on an NBA bench.
Kate Fagan at ESPNW did a fantastic profile of Laimbeer and as part of it touched on his time as an NBA assistant coach, working under Kurt Rambis for two seasons with the Timberwolves. Two bad seasons. And when Fagan asked front office people around the league about Laimbeer and his chances as an NBA coach, their comments left little room for doubt that he has almost no chance of getting back.
He’s lazy. He’s a buffoon. He can’t relate to NBA players. He treats them like it’s college. Guys just won’t play for him.
Laimbeer’s tenure with the Timberwolves is seen as a resounding failure, probably the final nail in his NBA coffin….
Perception is often reality. And in NBA circles, Laimbeer has a perception problem, compounded by his “I-don’t-give-a-s—” attitude about it. He doesn’t care how he’s viewed, even if how he’s viewed is keeping him from achieving the very thing he says is (or at least was) his ultimate goal: a head-coaching job in the league.
Being an NBA coach is not just about Xs and Os, it’s about managing players’ egos. Phil Jackson’s gift wasn’t strategy (that’s why he had Tex Winter along for the ride), rather it was his ability to get everyone pulling on the rope the same direction and to get them to think it was their idea to do so.
Laimbeer lacks that skill, and as so his ability to succeed in the NBA is questioned. Fairly or not.
Fagan describes how Laimbeer became frustrated running a drill at a 2010 NBA Draft workout and it eventually almost got out of control as he got on players who were not doing the drill the way he wanted. You can argue he was right they were not doing it his way, but this workout had a lot of team executives on hand who saw Laimbeer — who already had a reputation as hard to work with — make himself the center of the show. It’s one incident, but it played into the perception — but if someone else ran that same workout the same way it might have been seen differently (“don’t you love how X is such a stickler on getting the details right?”).
Never say never. The NBA coaching carousel seems to come back around with some odd choices now and again. However for Laimbeer it looks like the ride is not coming around again.