Rick Adelman may not be able to hit a three-point shot 39 percent of the time like Kevin Martin, defend the perimeter like Corey Brewer or be a force inside like Nikola Pekovic, but the 67-year-old coach became the Minnesota Timberwolves' most underrated pickup in the offseason when he announced he will return in 2013-14.
Think of him as a package deal. You get Adelman; you get Chase Budinger. You get Adelman; you get Martin. He probably influenced Brewer and Pekovic too. Kevin Love might even sign long term if the team is successful this year.
Adelman is an absolute genius. This man turned the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings into winners. The Blazers are one thing, but the Kings? The Kings! The organization that ESPN recently called the worst franchise in sports?
Yes, those Kings.
He met Martin while coaching those Kings and later reunited with him in Houston. He met Budinger while coaching the Rockets as well. Love played with his son at Lake Oswego High School.
The only team that Adelman could not win with is the Golden State Warriors, but until recently nobody could. Bill Simmons even had a large feature on how poorly the Dubs have been mismanaged and routinely torture their loyal fanbase.
Not only does Adelman have a reputation of success with small-market teams that have loyal fanbases, but he himself also played for many of those teams before coaching them.
The then-San Diego Rockets selected him out of Loyola Marymount University in the seventh round of 1968 NBA draft. The Blazers picked him up in the 1970 expansion draft. He also played for the Jazz when they were in New Orleans and the Kings when they were in Omaha and Kansas City.
The Wolves are his biggest reclamation project yet.
When he arrived in the Twin Cities, the team had just drafted three point guards in the first round of the 2009 draft. Ricky Rubio had remained in Spain, Jonny Flynn was on his way to Australia, and Ty Lawson was tearing it up for the Denver Nuggets. He was coaching under David Kahn, a general manager he wasn’t too fond of (though who was, really?) and his superstar, Love, would eventually question the future of the team, even though he liked his head coach.
The Timberwolves were reeling after trading away one of the best forwards ever to play the game, Kevin Garnett, even though he had wanted to win in Minnesota. He was coaching a franchise that once employed a man who made his own reality show, Stephon Marbury, a guy who once choked his coach and said he couldn’t feed his family on an NBA salary, Latrell Sprewell, and the league’s biggest stoner, Michael Beasley.
The Wolves were a laughingstock and Adelman is poised to make them a playoff team again.
Everyone would have understood if he left after this year. Terry Porter, who Adelman coached in Portland when he lost his parents, stepped in for his former coach when Adelman had to take care of his ailing wife, Mary Kay. Adelman admitted that he contemplated retiring but ultimately chose to return, making him the biggest pickup in the offseason.
Martin and Budinger, two much-needed perimeter threats, probably would be playing in a different location had Adelman not returned. As mentioned earlier, Adelman has had success with teams that are not usually contenders, which should bode well for the Wolves and his return, coupled with a potential playoff run this year, might keep Love in town for the long run.
No Adelman Likely Means No Martin or Budinger
Budinger, an effective outside shooter when healthy that the Wolves wanted to re-sign, made it very clear that if Minnesota wanted to retain him, Adelman had to return.
“That’s a big part of it,” he said in April, according to the Star-Tribune. “Me and Rick have a good relationship and he knows how well I play and I work well in his system so it’s going to be [really] big.”
Martin was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the time, a rising team in the Western Conference. They had been to the NBA Finals in 2012, employed two of the best players in the game, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and had dominated the Northwest Division.
Despite all that, Martin agreed to a sign-and-trade that reunited him with his old coach in Minneapolis and then signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the team. You think that would have happened without Adelman? Think again.
Phil Ervin of FOX Sports North points out that Martin was elated when he was traded to Houston in February of 2010, saying “I couldn't have packed my bags faster when I found out I was going to Houston to play for Rick Adelman again” and then was crestfallen when Adelman was fired the next year.
“To be losing a coach of his caliber, and also losing a lot of good coaches, a lot of good people, it's very hard," Martin said following the firing. "I think we lost one of the greatest coaches of all time."
Safe to say, he probably feels the same way about Adelman now.
There’s no telling how much Adelman impacted the decision-making of Corey Brewer or Nikola Pekovic. While Brewer left Minnesota before Adelman arrived and Pekovic had his best years under Adelman, both ultimately decided to return to Minnesota.
Who knows where they would be if Adelman had retired. Given how much impact he had on Martin and Budinger’s decisions, it’s not difficult to think that Brewer and Pekovic would be playing somewhere else following a coaching change.
Adelman is the linchpin that allowed Flip Saunders to make the moves he did during the offseason.
Adelman Has Won in Smaller Cities
Many NBA fans consider Phil Jackson the greatest basketball coach of all time because he led the Chicago Bulls to six titles, including two three-peats, and then won five rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is the Zen Master. He is an six-time Eastern Conference champion, seven-time Western Conference champion and 11-time NBA champion. But he was only been named Coach of the Year once, in 1996.
Jackson coached in two of the biggest cities in America: Chicago and Los Angeles. Adelman had success in Portland and Sacramento. Jackson had Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Adelman had Clyde Drexler and Chris Webber.
The only knock on Adelman is that he hasn’t won a championship, but until recently teams in big cities disproportionately dominated the league. When Jackson was with Chicago, the NBA was basically the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics and the Lakers. (Pistons are an outlier, but keep in mind that Detroit used to be a much bigger city.) When he was in Los Angeles, it was just the Lakers and the Celtics.
The league has become more balanced in recent years. The Miami Heat were revitalized when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in South Beach. The Oklahoma City Thunder have two bona fide homegrown talents in Durant and Westbrook.
The Bulls will get Derrick Rose back. With the Dwight Howard acquisition, the Houston Rockets might overtake the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, two recent champions, as the best team in the Lone Star State.
There is more parity than ever and the league is benefitting from it. It probably won’t matter that the Lakers and Celtics aren’t supposed to be the best teams going into next season.
In one sense, this makes Adelman’s job harder—he has more teams to compete with and cannot focus on a select few. On the other hand, it should work in his favor. For years it seemed like the recipe for winning in the NBA was straightforward: Coach a team in a big city that can attract superstars and keep them all from killing each other (or you!). Now that more and more teams are retaining the talent through the draft, it should come down to which teams scout and develop the best players and are coached the best.
It’s still a star-driven league and, unlike in college, coaches tend to take a backseat to the players, but Adelman’s chances of winning that elusive championship are better in a more balanced league where strategy, rather than location, should become the recipe for success.
Keeping Love in Minnesota
Make no mistake: Adelman needs Love if he’s going to win a championship. This is likely his last stop on what has been an immaculate coaching career. It’s now or never for the coach.
Love is 25 and should have a few good years left in him, but as I pointed out earlier, his best bet is with the Wolves right now. He’s got a coach he likes, a superstar point guard feeding him the ball and a deep team around him.
Who knows how long Adelman is going to be around, but if he can have success this season, it becomes more and more likely that Love signs long term.
Adelman has always maintained good relationships with the franchises that employed him and the players he coached. He is the reason why Martin and Budinger signed, has had success with small-market teams in the past and probably can keep the team’s best player in town long term.
That is why he is the most underrated pickup for Minnesota in the offseason.
All quotes were obtained first-hand, unless otherwise indicated.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.