Best Potential Options to Replace Rick Adelman as Minnesota Timberwolves Coach
The Minnesota Timberwolves lost a legend and now must figure out a way to avoid losing another figure who could be headed toward a similar status.
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement Monday, capping a 23-year career that included 1,042 victories (eighth-most all-time), 16 playoff appearances and a pair of Western Conference titles.
"It’s time. It’s time for me to step aside," Adelman said at a news conference Monday, via NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "...It’s time for someone else to come in."
It's time for the Timberwolves to go all-in on damage control.
Minnesota has yet to satisfy the starving appetite of three-time All-Star Kevin Love. The 25-year-old has yet to get a taste of postseason basketball and could choose to search for it elsewhere next summer when he can opt out of his current contract.
The Wolves are mired in a 10-year playoff drought and coming off their ninth consecutive losing season. Short on empty roster spots, they'll likely wage war in 2014-15 with a very similar cast of characters who contributed to this year's 40-42 mark.
Minnesota is close to playoff contention, but close might not be enough in Love's wandering eyes. This franchise needs a spark, and Adelman's vacated sideline seat could be the prime place to ignite one.
With Love's potential venture into free agency guiding this search, the Wolves need to find a notable name. Moreover, they need someone capable of featuring the big man (proving this market can yield money-making opportunities), coaching to the team's strength (offense) and masking the roster's limitations (interior defense, Ricky Rubio's offensive challenges).
There are several desirable names to consider, but these coaches should carry the most intrigue inside the North Star State.
Sam Cassell, Assistant Coach, Washington Wizards
Minnesota has a point guard (Rubio) who can't shoot, you say? Not a problem for Sam Cassell, who has helped the Washington Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 2008 despite having another perimeter-challenged player (John Wall, career 30.8 three-point percentage) running the show.
Cassell won three NBA titles during his playing career—which included a two-year stint with the Timberwolves—and has since spent the last five seasons with the Washington Wizards. Wall, who made career-first appearances in the playoffs and All-Star Game this season, has credited Cassell for futhering his development.
Wall said of Cassell, via Comcast SportsNet's Jimmy Toscano:
Big mentor. Somebody that's scored 16,000 points in this league … He probably was one of the best at the mid-range area jump shot, something that I'm adding to my game and having a lot of confidence in in working out with him.
Think Rubio, a 29.9 percent shooter from beyond 10 feet this season, via Basketball-Reference, couldn't benefit from the addition of a mid-range stroke? Think the Wolves couldn't use a confidence lift from the man responsible for bringing in the "Onions!" dance?
Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said he's looking for someone who "can carry some clout with our players," via Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press. Well, these players saw Cassell in his prime. If that doesn't carry some respect, it's hard to imagine what will.
Billy Donovan, Head Coach, University of Florida
Forget the cliche, defense doesn't win NBA championships—balance does. Two-way execution is a pivotal piece of the path to the podium, and the Wolves were mediocre at both ends in 2013-14 (10th in offensive efficiency, tied for 14th at the opposite side.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have all the weapons needed to become an elite offensive force. Florida head coach Billy Donovan could put in the elbow grease to complete the work needed at the opposite end.
Under Donovan's watch, the Gators held the No. 1 spot in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings, via SI.com's David Gardner. Florida has also made four Final Four appearances and secured two NCAA titles during the coach's 18-year run.
Would the NBA interest Donovan? Considering he had four seniors in his starting five (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather), this could be the perfect time to make the leap.
The Wolves might not be the most attractive team in the basketball world, but with a rising star like Love in the mix, they're certainly appealing.
Tom Izzo, Head Coach, Michigan State University
If Minnesota wants name recognition, it won't find many more recognizable than Michigan State's Tom Izzo. One national title (2000), six Final Four appearances and a career .715 winning percentage tend to have that effect.
Izzo has been friends with Timberwolves president of basketball operations "for years," according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press. Both ESPN's Jeff Goodman and CBS' Gary Parrish have tweeted they expect Izzo's name to be on Minnesota's short list of coaching candidates.
NBA overtures are nothing new for Izzo. In fact, this isn't even the first job he's been linked to this season. Sam Amick of USA Today previously reported the Detroit Pistons were "expected to go after" him to fill their own coaching vacancy.
Izzo, publicly at least, has maintained his interest is to stay in the college ranks. After declining an offer to take over the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, he declared "I am going to be a lifer," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). In light of the Pistons rumors, Izzo said Michigan State "is a pretty good place for me right now," via ESPN.com news services.
Maybe he's posturing for a more lucrative offer. Perhaps, he's yet to find the right situation. Maybe he really has no interest in joining the NBA.
Either way, the Timberwolves need to find out for themselves. If a new coach alone could pacify Love, Izzo might be the one.
Fred Hoiberg, Head Coach, Iowa State University
Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg might not seem like the most notable name in the coaching world, but his reputation inside basketball circles is second to none.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein said the former gunslinger is "widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game," which is quite the impressive title considering the other coaches on this list and the ones who didn't make the cut (UConn's Kevin Ollie, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, among others).
Hoiberg has a history with the Timberwolves. He spent the last two seasons of his 10-year playing career in Minnesota and later held a front office position there.
It's not his past that interests the Wolves, though, it's his present. He's steered the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances—something the program had only done once before—and flashed a pro-friendly system built around floor spacing and versatile bigs.
He sniffs out mismatches and exploits them, something that should be music to both Love's and Rubio's ears. Iowa State finished with the nation's fifth-highest scoring average at 83.0 points per game, via Sports-Reference, meaning "The Mayor" is well equipped to help the Wolves overwhelm with offense.
The interest from the Wolves side is obvious, but it's hard to say if it's mutual. The Ames, Iowa native received a raise in April. "I'm very happy here," he told Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore. "It was a dream come true for me when I was hired."
Still, he's a mainstay in the rumor mill having been mentioned as a candidate for the Wolves by Stein, NBA.com's Steve Aschburner and Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. Stein, though, has since reported the Wolves have "little-to-no-hope" of bringing Hoiberg back.
If Love is big into coaching buzz, though, the Wolves might yet pursue through the pessimism.
George Karl, Analyst, ESPN
Yes, George Karl's last NBA coaching gig did end with a dismissal. However, his departure also came after capturing Coach of the Year honors for leading the Denver Nuggets to their best season in NBA franchise history (57-25).
One of the game's great offensive minds—the Nuggets finished eighth or better in offensive efficiency during six of Karl's eight full seasons at the helm—he could work wonders with Minnesota's high-powered attack.
He likes to run at every opportunity, and Love's top-shelf outlet passing could be even more effective in Karl's run-and-gun scheme.
"The longtime NBA coach and current ESPN analyst has the sort of credentials (1,131-756 all-time record) and reputation that may make Love feel more at ease about sticking around," USA Today's Amick wrote.
Karl might not do a lot to plug Minnesota's defensive sieves, but the makeup of the roster (see: Love and Nikola Pekovic manning the middle) might make that hard for any coach. Addressing vulnerabilities is important, but maximizing a strength can be even more beneficial.
Karl is too good of a coach to be looking for work. The Timberwolves could change that.
Flip Saunders, President of Basketball Operations, Minnesota Timberwolves
Timberwolves president of basketball operations Saunders doesn't have to look outside the organization to find his next coach. He might not even need to look further than the closest mirror.
The current executive is the standard-setter when it comes to Minnesota coaches. It was during his more than eight-year reign the Wolves made all eight of their playoff appearances in the franchise's history.
He's also served as head coach of the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons. He has a career .548 winning percentage and 47 postseason victories.
He hasn't ruled himself out of this race. In fact, he sounds as if he expects to be a participant.
"We are going to do a search," he said, via Geder of the Pioneer Press, "and the search isn't just coming to talk to me."
ESPN's Chris Broussard tweeted "league insiders think Flip Saunders will take over the T-Wolves' coaching duties himself." Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune seems to echo that sentiment in the video above.
Saunders is in Minnesota to do his best to keep Love around. If climbing back in the coach's box is the best way to do that, then it's a move he'll have to make.