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Steve Aschburner

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The Timberwolves were 21-19 before Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in March.
NBAE via Getty Images

Adelman, Wolves search for experience to balance young core


Posted Jul 3 2012 11:43AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rick Adelman turned 66 years old a couple of weeks ago, a fact of the calendar that is being cited constantly these days as the reason the Timberwolves' coach is pushing hard with a win-now approach to the 2012-13 NBA season.

Adelman wanted to win last season when he was 65, but there wasn't much he could do about it. He was coming into a largely dysfunctional basketball operation as the new guy, with a lockout underway and a huge unknown on the roster named Ricky Rubio.

Adleman didn't just get a year older last season -- actually, there were many nights when he felt several years older after another 48 minutes of frustration. But he also got a year wiser and a year more ingrained in the Wolves' organization, while the team bumped along one year deeper into basketball president David Kahn's master plan.

That combination apparently has boosted Adelman's credibility with and access to owner Glen Taylor, because the to-do list in Minnesota so far this offseason has had the coach's agenda written all over it.

The days of stockpiling as many young and athletic players as possible -- most of whom came with untapped potential, baggage or lapsed expiration dates that Kahn tried to smudge off -- are over. The verbiage about playing fast, faster, fastest and about winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy-equivalent of talent developers has been muzzled.

Adelman made it clear at the end of the season -- a 21-19 playoffs-possible effort that nosedived into a 26-40 finish after Rubio suffered a torn ACL in the Wolves' 41st game -- that the team essentially had three players worth a spit (Rubio, All-Star power forward Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic). What it needed, in the coach's view, was experience, outside shooting, defense, a lot fewer knuckleheads and proven NBA-caliber ability.

No surprise, just about everything Minnesota has done since then appears to have the Adelman stamp of approval.

It started with the trade two days before the Draft of the Wolves' first-round pick, No. 18 overall, for Houston forward Chase Budinger. There was a logical two-fer appeal to the move: First, Adelman had coached Budinger while with the Rockets, valuing his game and especially his shooting. And second, taking a first-round draft pick out of Kahn's hands had to be considered a good thing.

Next came the decision to cut loose Michael Beasley (certainly) and Anthony Randolph (probably) by not extending qualifying offers that would have been based on skills and future hopes. Adelman doesn't have time for that anymore and frankly, the Wolves don't either.

Remember, team owner Glen Taylor is 71 and scouting for a minority partner who can buy him out in three or four years. Kahn is into his fourth season as basketball-ops prez and might need a postseason berth to land a new deal for himself. Love, when the Wolves refused to given him the five-year contract extension he sought, will be able to leave now in just three years, which really puts the organization on the clock.

That's the backdrop against which all of Minnesota's offseason ambitions must be assessed. Already, there have been plenty:

• A Wolves contingent flew to Seattle Friday to meet with Brandon Roy. The former Portland All-Star guard was forced to "retire" and was amnestied by the Blazers before last season. Roy, after a year away from NBA rigors, is intent on a comeback and reportedly is talking with five teams, including Chicago, Indiana, Dallas and Golden State. This seems like a long shot to really help -- short of knee replacements, it's hard to envision Roy's troubles not flaring up as soon as he hits a back-to-back -- but maybe it would be a low-cost flyer.

• Veteran shooting guard Jamal Crawford also is on the Wolves' shopping list. He is a prince of a fellow and a solid choice for a locker room, but on the court, Crawford wouldn't be much of an upgrade from failed 2010 pick Wes Johnson.

• Nicolas Batum, a restricted free agent from Portland, visited the Twin Cities Sunday and Monday and tops Minnesota's summer shopping list; he reportedly left town with an offer sheet for four years and nearly $50 million -- which of course the Trail Blazers can match if they choose. The three-day decision period doesn't start until July 11, but the Wolves already are eager to satisfy multiple needs (shooting guard, small forward, 3-point shooting, defense) with this one guy. He would be a terrific "get" for Adelman's roster.

• Power forward Jordan Hill, most recently of the Lakers and another player Adelman coached in Houston, apparently talked with the team on Monday.

• The big guy from L.A. who holds the most intrigue -- and generates the strongest opinions on both sides -- is All-Star Pau Gasol. There has been conversation between the teams, with forward Derrick Williams said to be central to any deal. That's where Wolves fans divide over the possibilities.

As a rookie last season, Williams -- the No. 2 pick in 2011, the highest in Minnesota franchise history -- figuratively got knocked on his butt. He averaged 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 21.5 minutes and never grabbed the playing time Adelman would have made available to him. He was out of shape, too heavy (and maybe too limited overall) to guard small forwards and clearly wasn't going to displace Love at power forward. If all things remained the same, trading Williams would be an easy call for Kahn and the Wolves.

But consider what Williams endured, beginning his pro career on the heels of the lockout: No summer league, no legit training camp, a hurried-up "preseason" and a scrunched regular season offering the least practice time in NBA history. Yes, Love still mans the "four" spot for Minny, but writing off Williams' whole future after such a bumpy start strikes many as rash.

Gasol isn't getting younger. He will be 33 by the time Rubio is ready for a full, healthy season. And even if he can start at center alongside Love, that figures to take minutes from Pekovic, one of the league's most unexpectedly improved players.

So trading young for old -- especially since young (Williams) has thrown himself into a dedicated conditioning regimen this summer and will try to handle small forward -- might seem like a mistake.

Except that it wouldn't be. After long consideration -- and one complete flip-flop in opinion -- my take is that Gasol can, in fact, play center and work with Love and Pekovic in a nice rotation of skills and styles. He has a frame that figures to age well -- neither he nor his arms are getting any shorter -- could still be valuable for four or five more seasons.

Adding him and Batum would put Minnesota into the thick of the playoff race, especially if Rubio can start another season by Christmas Day. The money? That really is Taylor's call, and those who know him say he'd love to make another push toward winning before he flips the franchise keys to someone else.

Taylor, Kahn, Adelman and Love all might be short-timers in Minnesota and, let's face it, it's a short-timer league these days when an "insta-team" of superstars can get to the Finals two years in a row out East and a bunch of kids can represent the West.

Let's not forget the fans at Target Center, either. They've been waiting eight years since the Wolves' last playoff appearance (2004), already longer than it took the expansion Timberpups to secure their first postseason berth.

In Minnesota, everyone, is on the clock and getting older.

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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