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Steve Aschburner

Rick Adelman feels the Timberwolves have enough young talent to compete in the very near future.
Rick Adelman feels the Timberwolves have enough young talent to compete in the very near future.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

Adelman discusses challenge in Minnesota and other topics

Posted Sep 29 2011 6:49AM

Rick Adelman didn't need to grab the first NBA coaching job that came along. He certainly didn't need to jump when the Minnesota Timberwolves came calling. The coach and the team are almost polar opposites: He is content, they are desperate. His reputation is golden, theirs is leaden. He has earned the pedigree that comes with 945 NBA coaching victories (eighth all time) and a .605 winning percentage in 20 seasons as a head coach. They have won fewer games as a franchise (705) in two more seasons (22), are lugging around a .398 percentage and were 100 games under water in the just the last two seasons (32-132).

When Adelman exited the Houston Rockets at the end of 2010-11, going 43-39 as center Yao Ming's season -- and NBA career -- ended after just five games, he figured to take time off and, maybe, eventually, consider a return with a good team. After all, with two trips to The Finals (with Portland in 1990 and 1992) on his coaching resume, only a ring is missing. But David Kahn, the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations Adelman knew dating to Kahn's days as a sportswriter with The Oregonian, called and Adelman picked up. Then Wolves owner Glen Taylor ponied up -- a $5 million annual salary in a deal variously reported as either three seasons (plus an option) or five seasons -- and Adelman responded.

On Wednesday, Adelman, 65, was introduced at Target Center in Minneapolis as the 10th head coach in Wolves history. A little later in the afternoon, he telephoned to talk about this Minnesota challenge, his decision not to take a sabbatical year, his aspirations for a front-office role, some ideas about his coaching staff and the prospect of working for a guy who used to cover his Trail Blazers teams. Why this team at this time?

Rick Adelman: I think they have some young talent here. It's a chance to build something. I could have waited for another situation but the more I looked at it, the more I thought -- as a coach -- it was a chance to turn something around and get it going in the right situation. How hard was it to dive right back in?

RA: When you finish a season like [last year in Houston], especially when you leave a team, you're always think, "Do I need to do this again right away?" I really felt that way for a while and wasn't sure I wanted to [get back]. Then they approached me late in the summer and the more I talked about it, the more I thought about it, I thought, "Well, maybe this is a good opportunity. Maybe something better won't come down the line. I'll have a good chance here to see what I can do." I think I kind of changed as the summer went on. You know how jobs open up in this league. Surely you would have been considered for vacancies that come along. One of those might have been with a much better team.

RA: I sure looked at that. But when I went into Houston, I thought we were going to have an excellent chance to compete for the championship with the two guys we had. But in four years, they played 70 games [actually, just 31 together] and didn't play the last two years. So the whole thing changed. I think you can look at every situation like that. I'm an eternal optimist, so maybe this one is going to go the opposite, where it doesn't look so good but if we can get the right pieces mixed in with what we have, we could have a team that can start moving up. If we look at your record compared to Minnesota's, it seems like the irresistible force vs. the immovable object: You're 329 games over .500 as a coach and they're 362 games under .500 over pretty much the same time frame. What the first thing you change about a culture coming off 15 and 17 victories in two seasons?

RA: We're going to have to get these guys to understand that, whatever happened last year or the year before, is done. It's not now. They all have to have the mentality that they're going to trust each other and turn it. They have to buy into that. Sometimes you have to change where their comfort level is -- a lot of players, when things don't go well, they want to revert back. We've got to get them to understand there's more you can do than what's always been your strength. It'll be my job when I get around these guys to make them understand other things they can do, and maybe you can change that mentality. You have to keep coming at 'em. Based on two years of failure under Kurt Rambis, and the difficulties running his variations on the triangle offense, they ought to be receptive.

RA: You certainly hope they buy in. It's up to me and my staff to get them to believe maybe it's going to be different now. Y'know, when we lost our two guys in Houston, we had guys step up, guys turned things around and we were able to be successful. Won't it be hard to do so much heavy-lifting at this stage of your career?

RA: Yeah, I think it is going to be hard. But sometimes that can be the best thing -- if you can do it. I just chose to take this challenge and see if we can make a difference. What impressions have you formed over the years about the Minnesota operation?

RA: I think Glen Taylor has a real commitment to try to turn this thing around and try to win again. He told me he would try to do whatever it took, and I believed him. The whole organization, just being around here for a few days, they're all looking for the same thing. I think it can be a very positive situation. You've got to get the team to have some success so you can build on it, but I was impressed with the people they have and the way he wants to operate it. The Wolves claim to want an "up-tempo" team and you have coached that style before. But after all these years, is there a trademark of your teams? Do you have a consistent thread through each stop or do you fit yourself to what you find?

RA: We've been consistent in how we've wanted to try to play, but we've really adjusted to the teams we've had. I don't think you can force a system down people's throats. You've got to try to tweak it to the talents you have. That's going to be my challenge with these young guys -- put 'em in situations where they feel they can succeed. So you have a philosophy but you have to look at your team and be sure you go to their strengths. How will it be working for a guy who used to cover you? There have been reports that you didn't always get along.

RA: I've known [Kahn] for a long time. He was the one who contacted me right after the season ended. We had numerous conversations over the summer. We have a good relationship. We want the same thing for the team. I think we'll have a good rapport as far as decisions we make on this team. He's assured me I'll have a lot of input in that. I think it's going to be fine. You're at a point individually where contending for a championship would be a goal. How long will it take to sync up the Wolves' improvement with that?

RA: It's real hard, because I think the young talent is there. But there's a couple of things you've got to do: You've got to have that young talent make strides in a lot of different positions and then you have to add some people who are going to kind of push you over the top. Sometimes it doesn't take long. If you look around the league at teams that are really coming up, a lot of their young guys just jumped. And they became really good players. That would be a team like, what, Oklahoma City? I'm reminded now that you cannot talk about specific players because of the lockout, lest you face an expensive fine from NBA headquarters. So I guess you can't publicly discuss your feelings about coaching any of the Wolves.

RA: I can't talk about that. I've been told very strongly. How would you have spent this season, if you actually had taken a year off?

RA: My wife [Mary Kay] had some plans. We probably woud have done some traveling. We have six kids and seven grandkids, so I'm sure that would have taken up a lot of time. With all the uncertainty from the lockout, will it limit what can do to get ready for the season, whenever it starts?

RA: Being hired so late, it's probably not bad for me. I have to get my staff together and we have to meet and prepare. We're going to be preparing so that, whenever the situation changes, we'll be ready to go. It's been reported that you will hire Portland assistant Bill Bayno for your staff. Other names that have been mentioned include Jack Sikma, T.R. Dunn and your sons R.J. and David. Any announcement yet on your assistants?

RA: Not yet. I know people I have in mind but I'm just starting to do it. What about Terry Porter? He played for you in Portland, coached with you in Sacramento and he was popular during his time with the Timberwolves.

RA: He's definitely somebody who would be in the mix. Did Taylor talk with you about any front-office aspirations you might have in the future?

RA: Nah, I really don't. I'm just here to coach the team and then go from there.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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