Coaching Staff Key To Wolves Success In 2013-14

Wolves Coaching Staff Key To Team's Success In 2013-14

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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A lot of conversations about the Wolves’ chances to end their nine-year playoff drought surround the pieces on the court, and rightfully so. The Wolves have an All-Star power forward in Kevin Love that’s widely considered one of the best at his position, they have a point guard in Ricky Rubio that keeps fans on their toes every time he touches the ball, and they re-signed their center Nikola Pekovic to a long-term deal ensuring opposing bigs will be physically punished at Target Center for the foreseeable future.

To top it off, they added a collection of pieces around those three—including Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer—who addressed shooting and defensive needs, respectively, necessary to compete in the Western Conference.

But one of the biggest reasons for the continued improvement and subsequent belief in this team over the past two years has been at the top. Coach Rick Adelman and his assistants have instilled their own blueprint for what the Timberwolves should look like and how they should play, and that philosophy has been supported by new President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders. If you look at the 17 players who were on the team’s roster in 2010-11, only Love and Pekovic remain (Brewer technically was on the roster, too, but was traded in February 2011 before returning this offseason).

They’ve instilled values in this team that mirror the type of players they were and the type of coaches they’ve been during their time in the NBA. Adelman is no stranger to success, having logged his 1,000th career win last April. During his time in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and now Minnesota, he’s had something that goes a long way: The respect and belief of his players and his coaching staff.

This is no accident. Adelman seems to instill a level of trust in those around him that helps feed their success. His coaching staff is delegated in-practice responsibilities that reflect their strengths, and the assistants rotate on a game-by-game basis which person scouts the upcoming opponent. They then all meet in a room and present their notes and strategies. Adelman has the final say, but the assistants have a large say in how the Wolves prepare for the upcoming contest.

It’s a big reason why there are so many recurring names in his storied career—a 23-year journey that includes 11 different 50-win seasons, 16 playoff appearances and two Western Conference championships.

It’s why players like Terry Porter, who starred for Adelman in Portland, took roles as an assistant under Adelman in Sacramento and Minnesota. T.R. Dunn spent time with Adelman as an assistant with the Kings, Rockets and Wolves dating back to 2004. Jack Sikma joined on in 2007 in Houston and came with to Minnesota. His son, David Adelman, was just promoted from player development coach to assistant after years of displaying through his attention to detail and ability to relate to players that, as Dante Cunningham agreed, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And Bobby Jackson, once a Sixth Man of the Year for Adelman in Sacramento, rejoined his old coach this season in Minnesota to help learn more about what it takes to become a successful coach in this league.

He helps players and coaches succeed, and he gives them the opportunity to grow.

“It’s terrific for me,” Dunn said last season. “Coach gives you responsibilities. You’re part of the team.”

And that’s just half the story. The other half is the loyalty players have toward him, which makes them want to reconnect with him down the road if possible.

Two current roster members are perfect examples. Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin have each played for Adelman on different teams—Budinger in Houston and Minnesota and Martin in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. Both thrived in Adelman’s offense because of the way they play the game—they are athletic wing players who can hit the 3 and create motion away from the ball within his corner system. There is a comfort level there, not only with the style of play but also with the style of coaching coming from the bench.

Not to mention all the others, some still playing on other rosters around the league, that stepped up and poured out reasons why they enjoyed playing for Adelman so much during interviews last year leading up to his 1,000th victory.

“He lets you play out there,” Budinger said. “He lets you make mistakes and keeps you in there and gives you confidence on the court. He brings out the best in every player.”

That stems from the staff, too. The assistants all have the same demeanor as Adelman in that they believe in one another, the work for each other and they interact with players in the same manner.

And each has a different, unique skill that fits in well with conveying their message and strategy to the players. For instance:

  • Terry Porter was a standout at point guard for Adelman in Portland. He helped the Blazers reach two NBA Finals, and during his career he made the postseason in 16 of his 17 seasons. He’s 13th all time in NBA/ABA history with 7,160 assists and 31st all time with 1,297 made 3-pointers. Porter has been to two All-Star Games and has been through the grind of the stretch run and the ups and downs of a playoff push. He’s a proven back-court leader, and he’s able to use his playing experience to complement his coaching tactics. He’s been an assistant in Sacramento and Detroit (under Saunders) as well as a head coach for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. When Adelman missed about three weeks last year to be with his wife, Porter was the team’s acting head coach.

  • Jack Sikma made the playoffs in 11 of his 14 seasons, and in his first two years he reached the finals twice and won the 1979 NBA title with Seattle. He was a seven-time All-Star and is still regarded as one of the most respected big men of his generation. He ranks 30th all-time in NBA/ABA history with 10,816 boards, twice led the league in rebounding and was in the top 10 for nine straight years in that category. He had nine years ranked in the top 5 in rebounding percentage, according to, and he had the top defensive rating in the league in 1981-82. Sikma’s knowledge on the glass and how to have a steady presence in the paint is incredibly valuable to the Wolves, since Minnesota is one of the few teams in today’s NBA that has a traditional, back-to-the-basket, power center in Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic’s adaptation to the NBA game and success in the league has reflections of Sikma’s presence on the staff.

  • T.R. Dunn was once described by Sikma as one of the toughest defensive guards in his era. When teams played Denver in the 1980s, they knew Dunn would be guarding their top defensive wing. In 14 seasons, Dunn made 12 playoff appearances and was a three-time selection for the All-NBA Defensive Second Team. He also was a head coach in the WNBA for the Charlotte Sting as well as an assistant at his alma-mater, the University of Alabama. He’s able to channel those lessons he learned as a player and on the sidelines into his messages.

  • David Adelman has the same type of coaching instincts as his father. He had immediate success as a high school coach in Portland and spent two years as a player development coach with the Wolves before being promoted to assistant. David Adelman coached the Wolves’ Summer League squads the past two years, and between that and his work in player development he’s demonstrated keen coaching abilities on a few different levels. He communicates and relates well with players, he’s got a firm grasp on the Xs and Os of the game, he manages the sideline well and he understands the fundamentals needed to make players better. He’s been around the game his entire life, he knows his dad’s offensive system well and he knows drills that better prepare players skill-wise for the games. And when given the opportunity to scout, he has impressed others with his attention to detail.

  • Bobby Jackson, who just joined the Wolves staff as its player development coach, spent 12 years in the league and made eight playoff appearances. His best years were with Adelman in Sacramento, where he won the 2003 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. He brought intensity, defense and scoring, something former teammate Kevin Martin said changed the energy in the arena when he entered the game. He spent two years as an assistant in Sacramento before joining the Wolves this season.

  • Among the assistant and player development coaches, the Wolves have 30 years of NBA coaching experience heading into this year. They also have a combined 57 seasons, 37 postseason runs and nine All-Star Game appearances as players in the league.

    Add in a head coach with 1,002 career victories and Saunders with 638 more coaching wins, and this Wolves staff has the practical experience to help this revamped team take the next step in 2013-14.

    The practical experience, the vision and the leadership skills make this a coaching staff, as a whole, that is important to the success of this team this winter. This staff has never had season in Minnesota under normal circumstances—its first year included no offseason leading in due to the lockout coupled with an injury-riddled final two months, and last year the team lost 341 man games to injury stretching start to finish.

    This year, with a healthy roster, this team could get the chance to show its full potential. And if it does, the coaching staff leading the way will be a pivotal part of the equation.

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