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Steve Aschburner

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Rick Adelman brings more than 900 NBA head coaching wins to the youthful Wolves.
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Seasoned Adelman is perfect fit for young Timberwolves


Posted Dec 30 2011 11:15AM

Rick Adelman knows where he wants his wing players to move and cut on a basketball court. He knows where he wants them to be when they're scrambling back in transition defense.

Adelman knows where he wants them to sit, and with whom, on his team's charter flights around the NBA. He even knows where he wants the broadcasters and corporate types to plant themselves -- somewhere, anywhere, as long as it's outside the gym -- during morning shootarounds.

It's all part of Adelman's appeal at the moment as The Most Professional Coach Ever Hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves. And part of the buzz being generated in the Twin Cities by a young, talented and, for most of the past four seasons, haphazard and largely irrelevant team.

Changing a team's "culture" gets talked about a lot in the NBA and, frankly, a lot of times it is hot air. Something to talk about when the Xs and the Os aren't meshing and the scoreboard keeps tilting the wrong way. Culture is something best left to the good folks at Yoplait and the Guggenheim, and not a word you'll hear much coming out of Adelman's mouth.

What he more often talks about are habits and atmosphere and attitude. And the accountability and reliability of an approach that works, tested and cured over 20 years to some of the greatest coaching success in league annals. At 945-616 (.605) when he was hired in September, Adelman ranked eighth in victories, behind only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl. He trailed only two of them -- Jackson (.704) and Riley (.636) -- in winning percentage.

And while he never has coached a team to the NBA championship, he twice took Portland to The Finals. His teams advanced to the playoffs 16 times in 20 years and only twice finished below .500.

Compare that to the men who preceded Adelman in his current job, based on their NBA head coaching records at the time they were hired and quick synopses of their stays in Minnesota:

-- Bill Musselman (27-67, .287): Hard-driving, innovative and ultimately wound a bit too tight to survive beyond a second season with an expansion team.

-- Jimmy Rodgers (94-70, .573): Rodgers got to coach legends in Boston, then got to coach against a league apparently filled with legends when he got to Minnesota. His usual post-game refrain: "We ran into a buzzsaw tonight."

-- Sidney Lowe (0-0, .000): A hire from the former-player school of NBA coaches who experienced the joy of simultaneously coaching Christian Laettner and J.R. Rider

-- Bill Blair (2-4, .333): A longtime assistant who was too honest for his own good, sharing with the media the Wolves' many tales of dysfunction from 1994-95.

-- Flip Saunders (0-0, .000): Saunders went on to become the franchise's most successful and longest-lasting head coach, with eight playoff appearances. But he was a CBA guy looking to make his bones when he arrived.

-- Kevin McHale (0-0, .000): The Hall of Famer had two stints after, in his capacity as the team's basketball boss, firing Saunders and later Randy Wittman. He didn't seem interested in coaching -- until plunging back in with Houston this season.

-- Dwane Casey (0-0, .000): Right guy, wrong team. Casey was a newbie in need of a young team seeking teaching and development, not a salty crew patching together playoff-minded lineups around Kevin Garnett.

-- Randy Wittman (62-102, .378): Struggled in his first shot in Cleveland but earned another chance as a trusty Saunders assistant.

-- Kurt Rambis (24-13, .649): Carried himself as if he would be Phil Jackson Lite, triangle-minded and a little aloof. Wrong team, wrong roster, wrong approach.

Now, finally, in Adelman, Minnesota has someone who knew long before he arrived what he wanted to do, how he planned to do it and what his zigs will be if things start to zag. He has more credibility than anyone else in the organization -- which isn't saying all that much, at least since the July 2007 trade that sent Garnett to the Boston Celtics -- and he has been quick to flex it. To the appreciation of those above and below him in the company flow chart.

"In years past, I think we'd think he was sort of a [bleep]," said one Wolves front-office employee. "But with all the disorganization, all the b.s., all the losing, people are looking for someone to give some order. Rick knows how he wants things to run. On the plane, if he wants two guys to sit together, he doesn't want them to sit together sometimes. He wants it all the time."

Said forward Kevin Love, who has known Adelman since he was in junior high and played with his son Patrick: "To be eighth-winningest coach of all time, it just goes to show you. His teams with the superstars in Sacramento all the way to where he lost superstars in Hosuton with Yao [Ming] and T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] -- he took that team to seven games with the Lakers, I believe, in 2009 -- he's a guy who can win anywhere."

Even, dare say, in Minnesota, where winning took a back seat to the conveniently euphemistic "player development" for the past two seasons and losing, as a result, became accepted. Fans in the Twin Cities are different from those in the Rust Belt or in Oakland; rather than boo, they'll lose interest and stay away when a team becomes unwatchable. Irrelevancy followed, and the long wait for Ricky Rubio -- the No. 5 pick from back in June 2009 -- put a slowly ticking clock on it all.

Well, Rubio is here now, already showing tremendous court vision and more shooting and defensive chops than he was given credit for, as he works his way through rookie lessons and inconsistency. Forward Derrick Williams, at No. 2 the highest draft pick in Wolves history, is on board too, another raw option who will try to learn both forward spots on the fly.

Love is the flag-planter, the face of the franchise among its players and -- never mind his defense -- a piece coveted by just about every team that doesn't have Blake Griffin at the moment. There are nine other Wolves players back from the 2010-11 squad that won just 17 times, but Adelman has a savvy staff with him again, assistants who played or coached with him -- Terry Porter, Jack Sikma, T.R. Dunn, in addition to Bill Bayno -- long enough to reinforce everything the boss wants to install.

The Minnesota job seemed a shaky fit for Adelman, 65, when he got passed over by the Lakers. Would he have the time and the patience to get that motley Wolves crew where it needed to go? But the veteran coach saw the youth, saw the talent. From the opposite bench last year, Adelman also saw the potential that was left on the table by the less-experienced Rambis.

Last in defense, last in turnovers, near the bottom in assists, steals and percentages of all sorts, the Wolves were a team that -- with tweaks here, overhauls there -- could improve quickly, in Adelman's view. He and the staff have hammered on those areas since the lockout lifted, and will continue through the nasty gauntlet -- Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Memphis on the homestand that begins Friday night -- of their schedule.

"I also thought about the fact that you take some jobs that you think are very good and you end up -- because of the expectations and things -- that they aren't what you thought, they just blow up in your face," Adelman said upon his hiring. "They can be just as tough of a job. That happened to me in Houston, where we lost the two guys [Yao and McGrady] and the whole situation changed."

The bar in Minnesota, by comparison, couldn't have gone much lower after two years of churning and false starts under David Kahn, the team's president of basketball operations. At this point, the only negative to Adelman's impact seems to be a fear among some Twin Cities fans that his success might throw a life preserver to Kahn upstairs.

Adelman, after all, was an obvious choice for Minnesota to pursue and hire. At least it didn't muck it up.

"He's instant credibility," Love said. "When he speaks, he has a certain raspy voice and a certain tone -- it's not monotone, but it's raspy and kind of quiet, so you listen. What he says resonates with all of us. Through training camp, we've all been on the same page. We've been able to co-exist out there. And we're never complacent, we're always moving without the ball.

"Slowly but surely we're going to get better."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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