Longevity Key To 1,000 Wins Club, And Adelman Has It
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The NBA’s 1,000 wins club is an exclusive group. Lenny Wilkens was the first to join the group 17 years ago, and since he became the pioneer member in 1996 six other coaches join the group.
As early as Friday night, membership in the 1,000 wins club could increase to eight.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman collected Win No. 999 on Wednesday in Milwaukee, a 107-98 victory over the Bucks. Adelman’s journey began in 1989 with the Portland Trail Blazers and has taken him to Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota along the way. At each stop he’s gained and furthered his reputation as a player’s coach, an innovative offensive mind and a respected leader on the basketball court.
It takes those attributes to have a shot at 1,000 wins, but even that isn’t enough. Celtics coach Doc Rivers is a well-respected leader in the league, but he was quick to note on Monday that he doesn’t expect to reach four digit wins in his career. A coach needs to be able to string together an incredible run of success and longevity to have a shot, and Adelman has done that at each stop he’s made.
Longevity in the NBA is something to be celebrated, because even though constant success is an expectation, it is not a right.
“When you get to 1,000 wins, you’ve been around a long time and you’ve been on both sides of the equation,” said Pat Riley, who ranks fourth on the all-time wins list with 1,210 victories. “You’ve had a lot of wins, and you’ve had a lot of losses. So, I think that’s one thing about longevity in this league. There aren’t a lot of coaches that can hang in there for 20-25 years.”
Adelman is one of the few, and it’s well deserved. He’s earned a reputation over more than two decades for being a patient leader, a thoughtful offensive guru and a trusting boss. One of his endearing qualities to his past and present assistant coaches is the level of confidence he has in those he has around him. He expects his assistant coaches to produce their scheduled scouting reports on opponents, pitch a gameplan during meetings and handle portions of the squad’s practice routine.
He’s a strong judge in character when it comes to his coaches and his players, and that’s an ingredient in longevity. The coaches on his staffs over the years have often stayed with him through transitions. T.R. Dunn has been with Adelman in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. Jack Sikma joined Adelman in Houston and came to Minnesota with him. Elston Turner joined him in Sacramento and came with to Houston.
There is such a level of mutual respect there between him and his assistant coaches and players. They know he trusts them, giving them independence to learn and succeed but also expecting them to get their jobs done properly.
“We had developed a chemistry between us, I knew what he wanted done, and there was a part where we had to grow to get that. There was a point where he trusted me, he’d tell me what he wanted,” Turner said. “So there was a bond there between us.”
From stop to stop, Adelman has adjusted. He hasn’t always had the same type of players at each of his coaching jobs, and sometimes within those coaching stops he’s had so many injuries that it’s changed the scope of the team—requiring him to adjust his game plans in-season and sometimes in-game.
The Wolves have lost more than 300 man games this season, including their top players sprinkled throughout the year. The team adjusts as it goes. He did the same thing in Houston. The Rockets played a half court, slower paced set when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady were healthy. When they were injured and others stepped in, there was flexibility to play a little faster pace.
He’s revered by his peers for being ahead of the curve.
“He sees the game within the game, and he sees where the league is going and he’s making adjustments before everybody else makes adjustments,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Karl is sixth on the all-time wins list with 1,125 victories. He and Adelman were up for the same assistant coaching job in Portland under the legendary Dr. Jack Ramsay, and Adelman ended up getting the position. Now, Karl is in the 1,000 wins club and Adelman is on the verge of joining him.
Together, they’ve battled each other for the better part of two decades and have developed a strong respect for one another. They also share longevity.
“The whole thing comes down to, as you get older, it’s the ability every year to deliver a team of excellence and improvement,” Karl said. “The betterment, I think, he plays a system that makes his players improve in the league. The development of excellence year in and year out is a tremendous compliment. I’m happy that he’s going to get there, and I’m sure he’s going to get there this year.”
When it comes down to it, some of the best in league history admire Adelman for his ability to adjust with each situation and with the league’s ever-evolving eras. He’s been able to evolve and, at times, stay ahead of the curve, and it’s been a key to his success and his longevity over the years.
It’s a big reason why Karl and Riley are about to welcome him into the 1,000 wins club.
“Coach Adelman has been one of the best in dealing with this generational pull, and at the same time he’s become one of the most creative offensive minds that this game has ever known,” Riley said. “He truly and is simply one of the best coaches in the history of the game, and I hated coaching against him because I knew he was going to pick us apart. He’d find a way to exploit what we were doing defensively. I will congratulate him whole-heartedly when he gets to 1,000.”
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