Adelman's Trust In Staff Big Part Of His Career Success

I asked Rick Adelman a question about how daunting a task it might be having to deal with Dwight Howard in the starting lineup and an All-Star like Pau Gasol coming off the bench as the Wolves began prepping for the Lakers. How would the Wolves prepare? In classic Adelman fashion, he brought his assistants into the mix.  “It’s up to T.R.,” Adelman said. “He’s got the game. We’ll wait for the answers from him.” 

There’s a reason why Adelman is closing in on his 1,000th career win as a head coach in the NBA. He’s currently at 989 wins, and a lot of that has to do with his ability to motivate and evaluate not only on the court but also in his coaching staff. It’s apparent in everything he does—the trust he instills in his assistants shows just how much he understands the value and input of the people he puts around him.

It’s something that makes him the ultimate coach to work with from his assistants’ perspectives.

We’ve been doing interviews with members of the NBA community over the past two months in preparation for Adelman’s 1,000th victory, and during that time we’ve talked to current and former assistants about what it’s like to be on his staff. Unanimously, from the current group to past assistants like Elston Turner, they’ve asserted Adelman is the type of coach that has a special knack for getting everyone involved in the process.

Assistant coach Bill Bayno has been a head coach at the collegiate level, and he admits he didn’t always listen or take suggestions from his assistants—sometimes frustrating members of his staff. Bayno said Adelman is seasoned in that department.

“He’s great with that,” Bayno said. “And the players are the same way. They love him because he trusts him, he puts them in position to win. He doesn’t micro-manage. He doesn’t over-coach them. He sees how the scenario goes, and then he’ll wait and see and make his adjustments.”

It’s the mark of a coach who understands how to get the most out of the people around him. I spent a season cover the Boston Red Sox, and during my time there I got to know Terry Francona as a similar manager. Each day, regardless of the game’s outcome, Francona was the same guy. He never got too emotional over wins or losses, and he trusted that his staff would put together the right game plan to win. I respected Francona for that, and over the past two seasons with Adelman I’ve grown to know him for the same traits.

Adelman’s coaching staff knows exactly what is expected of them each day, each week. They rotate scouting reports among Dunn, Bayno, Terry Porter and Jack Sikma, so they know every fourth game will be theirs to scout and promote a game plan. Before they present the gameplan to the players, they meet together and the assistant who scouted the game presents the game plan. More often than not Adelman rolls with that game plan and makes adjustments as necessary during the game, but that meeting is the time where he signs off or makes pregame adjustments.

“He trusts us as assistants. You can’t lift an assistant coach up more and get him to work hard and motivate him more than showing him that, you know what? I trust you,” Bayno said. “Give me the game plan, tell me what you think.”

During the week, the assistants have practice responsibilities working with specific parts of the team. Sikma, a star big-man during his playing days works with the front court. Dunn and Porter, both standout guards, work with the back court.

There’s a sense of community and family among the coaches. It’s why Dunn worked with Adelman in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. It’s why Sikma followed Adelman from Houston to Minnesota. It’s why Porter has developed a long-lasting friendship with Adelman dating back to his playing days in Portland in the 1980s and 1990s. And it’s why Bayno decided to leave Portland after six years to join Adelman’s staff.

“He gives you duties and responsibilities that allow you to interact and work with guys on the floor, have input on game plans, the whole ball of wax,” Dunn said.

“We are all in this together.”

When Adelman returned from missing about three weeks to be with his wife in the hospital, the first thing he said was when you’re away you need to let those who are here in the locker room handle things. “You’re not there—you’ve got to let the guys do it,” he said. And that’s Adelman in a nutshell. He surrounds himself with talented coaches with a great feel for the game, and he makes sure they are heavily involved with prepping the team for game day.

He’s been a head coach in this league for more than 20 years, and he’s on the cusp of 1,000 wins. And when he does reach that milestone, he’ll have a collection of coaches on staff that are more than honored to be part of this journey with him.

They trust him because he trusts them.

That’s the way it should be.

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