Let’s be honest: The Timberwolves needed Rick Adelman more than he needed them.
Adelman, 66, has already had considerable success at his stops with the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets. Had he retired after this season to care for his ailing wife, Mary Kay, he would go down as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
Perhaps it is his quest to win his first championship as a head coach, perhaps it is his relationship with the returning players or perhaps he is happy to see David Kahn go (Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the two did not get along back in 2011).
Whatever it is, he is back and the Timberwolves are better for it.
First of all, Adelman has a good relationship with two pending free agents, Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger, as well as Kevin Love—the man Minnesota doesn’t want to see head down to Los Angeles (or elsewhere) in 2015.
Pekovic has blossomed under Adelman’s tutelage, and while he is not as vocal about his relationship with his coach, every sign points to the two getting along. The Wolves had trouble defending inside without their ginormous Montenegrin setting up camp in the paint and they need his offensive production, which has increased every year, to give guys like Derrick Williams and Love a little slack.
Budinger came out and said that he’s interested in returning to Minnesota as long as Adelman is the head coach next season, telling Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “That’s a big part of it. He knows how I play. I work well in his system. [Adelman’s decision] going to weigh big.”
While Pekovic’s impact is easy to see, Budinger’s contributions are a bit more subtle.
He is an excellent three-point shooter that can also throw down a massive dunk or two during the course of a game. He uses his outside shot to force defenders to play him close and then will sneak past them with his lanky, lithe frame to get to the basket.
Budinger found out how to be an impact player in Adelman’s system and should thrive next season as long as his knees hold up.
Finally, as we all know, Love would have rather played for Donkey Kong than David Kahn. The addition of Flip Saunders is nice, as his reputation as a winning coach should give him credibility among the players, but make no mistake: Keeping Adelman in town is the biggest factor. The double whammy of dropping D.K. and retaining Adelman is a win-win for both K-Love and the Wolves.
In the Wojnarowski article referenced above, the Yahoo! Sports writer says that Adelman wanted to coach Love, as the Oregon native played with his son in high school. The two clearly have a good working relationship and Love has become one of the best power forwards in the game under Adelman.
It also cannot go overlooked that the coach has created a system that Ricky Rubio can thrive in and has been patient with Derrick Williams.
Few players in the NBA can pass like Rubio does, but we wouldn’t see his no-look, behind-the-back, between-a-defender’s-legs, over-hyphenated passes if he was in a system that cramped his creativity. Instead, last year it seemed like everyone knew what they were supposed to do in the corner offense and Rubio, the floor general, knew exactly where his teammates would be at any given time.
While Rubio may be the only person that is disappointed about Kahn’s departure, at least he has the stability of playing for the same coach again this year.
With Williams, let’s not forget that just about everyone had just about left him for dead at the beginning of the season. When the Timberwolves started dropping like flies at the beginning of the season, D-Will got a lot of playing time, but failed to take advantage of it. He was this incredibly athletic forward that just looked completely lost on the court.
Adelman eventually reduced his minutes, but kept sending him out there, allowing him to make adjustments on a game-by-game basis. Towards the end of the season we saw the real D-Will: He was hitting outside shots, slashing to the basket and even started playing some better defense.
Williams is a freak athlete that should be a staple in the Minnesota rotation for years to come. Not only will he hear a familiar voice this year, but he can also go into the season knowing his head coach will be patient with him. Confidence is key for Williams, as it is for many players, and he has every reason to feel secure entering next season with Adelman at the helm.
In the end, not only has Adelman proven that he is an elite coach in the NBA, but he also has a good connection with the key components of the Timberwolves going forward. Love and Rubio are the poster boys, Minnesota’s NBA Jam team. Pekovic is the team’s rock. Williams is the most versatile player. And Budinger is either the sixth man or a converted shooting guard that completes the starting five.
In an ideal world, Adelman sticks around for a couple years, brings a championship to Minnesota and rides off into the sunset, handing a competitive team off to his successor.
That is a pipe dream, of course, but so is keeping Adelman. And for right now, after all Minnesota’s fans have been through, we’ll take that.