Leaving a Foundation

Rick Adelman's tenure with the Timberwolves left the franchise in a far better place than where he found it three years ago.
Rick Adelman announced his retirement.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Wolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement on Monday inside the LifeTime Fitness Training Center, ending his 23-year run as an NBA coach and his three-year stint with the Timberwolves. During those three years, Adelman won 97 games (good for second all-time on the Wolves’ franchise coaching list behind Flip Saunders) and added to the team’s win total each year.

When he took over, the Wolves won 17 games the year before and 15 the year before that. During Adelman’s run, he won 26 games in a 66-game shortened season, then 31 in 2012-13 before going 40-42 this season.

That’s five consecutive seasons where the team improved its win total, three of which coming under Adelman.

So as he sat next to Saunders, the team’s President of Basketball Operations, on Monday during his retirement press conference, he did so with mixed emotions about his time here in the Twin Cities. Adelman helped restore the team back to credibility, yet he wished that postseason berth would’ve come with it.

“It’s not that far away,” said Adelman, who will remain a consultant for the team. “Sometimes you want it to happen in a year…you want it to happen in two years. Sometimes it takes longer than that. What looks good on paper isn’t necessarily what the reality is. You know, I think that’s true, but I think there are a lot of great pieces on this team, and I have so much confidence in Flip and [general manager] Milt [Newton] and the entire staff that they’ll do the right thing and make the right steps to put this team in competition for the playoffs.

“I wish I could have done more, but I really enjoyed my time.”

Adelman left his mark on this organization—and the fruits of his labor are in position to flourish in the years to come. Only four players that were on the roster when he took over in 2011-12 are still on the team today: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea. From December 2011 to today, 36 different players have been on the Wolves’ roster at one point or another. Of that, a collection was brought on due to the collection of injuries the team suffered in 2012-13—Mickael Gelabale, Chris Johnson, Lazar Hayward and Josh Howard all fit into that category.

But the biggest reason why there has been so much turnover over the past three years is Adelman, coupled with the front office, have worked together to find players that not only fit specific roles on the team but have the desire to win on a nightly basis. The culture in the locker room is now built to succeed—the one that Adelman adopted in 2011 was not necessarily built like that.

Today, the Wolves have a core that continue to develop thanks to the work Adelman and his assistant coaching staff did with the team over the past three years. In the same way Adelman’s staff helped Vlade Divac and Chris Webber become exceptional passing bigs in Sacramento, Kevin Love added passing in the half-court to his list of talents this season. Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng also noticeably benefitted from their work on the practice court.

The foundation he set both on the court and with the level of expectations this organization hopes to achieve moving forward will be lasting imprints of Adelman’s tenure as coach as the team moves into the next phase of finding his replacement.

Saunders said the Wolves will want to find someone who can follow in Adelman’s footsteps in that regard—especially in the way Adelman led the team offensively. Minnesota finished the 2013-14 season third in the league with 106.9 points per game, fifth in assists at 24.0 per game and sixth in rebounding at 44.7 boards per game.

“He took a team that won 15 and 17 games in three years won 40 games,” Saunders said. “I know a lot of people this year weren’t happy that we only won 40, but let me tell you something, it’s tough to make the jump and win that many games in two years….I respect what he’s been able to do. He’s at least put this organization right now in respectability where three years ago we didn’t have that.”

That coaching search will take time—Saunders said he’d like to have someone sooner rather than later considering the Draft Combine, workouts and Draft night are all around the corner. But if it takes until the Draft and beyond, they’ll adjust. They want to find the right person to fill Adelman’s position so they can build on the foundation set over the past three years.

As for Adelman’s consulting role, Saunders said the team will ask for Adelman’s advice on players in order to tap into his vast knowledge within the NBA. The Wolves hope Adelman can continue helping move the team in the right direction, even if it’s just through a phone call now and again.

“Rick’s been around the league a long time,” Saunders said. “He has a great understanding of the players in the league, and I think we’ll use him a lot as a sounding board. Whether you talk to him about players, whether you talk to him about when he’s watching games. Just little things he can do to help out our team, and so I think it’s one of those thing that’s going to evolve. Anyone that has the knowledge Rick has, we’re going to utilize him, there’s no question, as much as we can but still give him the freedom that he wants.”


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