Success is a subjective term. Not every team in every sport lives by the thought process of championship or bust, but instead utilizes a detailed plan to improve upon past success and thus lay the groundwork for future contending.
That's the case for the Minnesota Timberwolves, which haven't made the playoffs since 2003-04. The head coach from that season, Flip Saunders, is now the president of basketball operations.
The question is how has the current head coach, Rick Adelman, done with the T-Wolves in 2013-14?
Adelman is one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history. He's one of just eight coaches to win at least 1,000 games, which has made him one of the most respected commodities in all of basketball.
With Minnesota 10 years removed from the playoffs, however, legacy means nothing; Adelman needs to shine today. Here's how he's done thus far.
Motivation of Team: A-
For roughly 10 years, the Timberwolves have been nothing better than mediocre. They haven't won more than 33 games since 2004-05, haven't made the playoffs since 2003-04 and have squandered early draft picks.
Adelman has led something of an escape from inferiority.
Through 62 games, the Timberwolves have already matched their win total from 2012-13. After going 31-51 a year ago, Minnesota is 31-31 in 2013-14 and has displayed tremendous improvement as a unit.
The Timberwolves have been been flirting with .500 throughout the season, trading wins and losses at every turn. Victories haven't often been pieced together, but rather than characteristically crumbling under pressure, Minnesota has bounced back strong from defeat.
In search of their first 40-win season since 2004-05, Adelman has the T-Wolves poised to do just that.
Minnesota has underachieved when weighing the fact that it was expected to break through as a postseason team. With a number of moving pieces and unpredictable short-term injuries to key players, however, Adelman has done a great job of keeping this team at .500.
Minnesota is within five games of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with 20 contests remaining. That's a major step towards escaping inferiority, and Adelman deserves praise for it.
There are moments of uncertainty, but that level of improvement is a sign of a motivated team.
Player Development: C-
Here's where things get rough.
For a team as in-the-middle as the Timberwolves are, the starting lineup is as steady as you'll find in the NBA. It's hard to make a case that any of Minnesota's starting five should be replaced, which makes playing time tough to come by.
That doesn't mean player development should be abandoned altogether, but that's what happened for a strong portion of the season.
The prime example here is first-year small forward Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad, the No. 14 overall draft choice, has come on strong over the past few weeks, sporadically scoring and rebounding at impressive levels.
Thus, many have questioned why Muhammad doesn't see more playing time.
Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN offered his take:
29: The number of rookies who have played more minutes than Shabazz Muhammad this season.
But answer this for me: On what planet are the Wolves good enough to stash the 14th overall pick on the bench for the first three-and-a-half months of the season?
The answer: Not planet Earth.
Muhammad has experienced his ups and downs, but so has every other rookie. The T-Wolves worked hard to acquire the first-round draft pick, which makes his inconsistent playing time so difficult to understand.
As an offensive-minded club that relies heavily on its ability to crash the boards, Minnesota seems to be the perfect team for the former UCLA star. With Chase Budinger missing the first two months of the season, there was playing time available.
Nothing came of it.
Adelman sending Muhammad to the D-League earlier this season seems to have benefited the rookie. Nevertheless, one can't help but wonder why he, as well as rookie big man Gorgui Dieng, haven't seen the court more often.
When there are more questions than answers, it's discerning.
Until the past two months or so, the Timberwolves were the type of team which depth didn't exist for. J.J. Barea was the lone form of scoring with Budinger injured and Muhammad spending time in the D-League, while defensive aid was tough to find due to the inconsistent availability of contributors.
Ronny Turiaf emerged as as a rim protector, seeing more than 20 minutes per night, and Adelman's rotation had become slightly more dynamic. Unfortunately, Turiaf went down and things were, once again, a blur in Minnesota.
So, how do you analyze a rotation that features so many injuries and question marks? Just like everything else in Minnesota: It's complicated.
The Timberwolves have a strong and well-crafted starting five with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. It's a group that caters directly to the offensive-minded game that Minnesota prefers to play.
For that, there's nothing to do but praise Adelman.
The harsh reality is that, even if he were to utilize his bench more, Adelman wouldn't have anywhere to turn. Alexey Shved has regressed, Budinger and Turiaf have battled injuries and only Barea averages more than eight points as a reserve.
There are some questionable decisions, specifically with Budinger and Muhammad. For what he has to work with, however, Adelman has done a good job.
Game Management: C
During the fourth quarter of games, the Timberwolves shoot an NBA-worst 40.4 percent from the floor, per NBA.com. The T-Wolves are No. 28 with 23.5 fourth-quarter points scored per game.
That's especially surprising considering the T-Wolves are No. 2 in the NBA with 27.1 third-quarter points per contest, per NBA.com. Talk about a consistent collapse.
According NBA.com, the Timberwolves also rank No. 20 in team field-goal percentage during clutch situations. More specifically, and perhaps most importantly, Minnesota is No. 28 in team plus/minus during said scenarios at negative-1.9.
What this all adds up to is poor game management by a coach who is revered for his ability to win regular-season games. There's only so much that Adelman can do, and there have been instances of stars failing to hit big shots late in games.
Seeing as the Timberwolves are the definition of a streaky team, the blame lands on the coach.
Overall Grade: B
If we're grading the Timberwolves' season as a whole, then it'd be somewhere in between a C and a C-plus. Grading a coach's job is a lot more complex than just evaluating team success.
What Adelman has done in 2013-14 deserves praise.
The Timberwolves are a franchise that experienced significant turnover during the 2013 offseason. There were key additions such as Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf and a number of different injuries during the regular season.
Even still, Minnesota is on pace for its most successful season in roughly a decade.
There is a downside when one measures how high the expectations were for Minnesota entering this season. Many believed that the T-Wolves were primed and ready for a postseason push.
That dream is still alive, but Minnesota did something that its fans are all to familiar with: It missed out on a golden opportunity.
Minnesota is a manageable five games back of the No. 8 seed, but with just 20 games remaining, it'll take a herculean effort to make that work.
Even if Minnesota fails to make the playoffs, this 62-game success is stronger than anything it has experienced in quite some time. It's a major step in the right direction, and the T-Wolves wouldn't be 31-31 if Adelman hadn't worked his magic.
There's room for improvement, but for a city so far removed from NBA glory, Adelman has the Timberwolves playing like brighter days are soon to follow.
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