Rumored Rick Adelman Contract with Minnesota Timberwolves Is Worth the Risk

Joe M.Correspondent IISeptember 13, 2011

Rick Adelman will command respect and credibility both of the team and around the league.
Rick Adelman will command respect and credibility both of the team and around the league.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

[Update: Adelman has apparently agreed to terms with the Wolves to be their next head coach. However, this article was written last night before today's updates. Please keep that in mind while reading this].

By now, those of us who are either Minnesota Timberwolves fans, or just really hardcore NBA fans have heard the rumors and read the rumored numbers: five years, $25 million if the woeful Minnesota franchise wishes to hire former Blazers, Kings, and Rockets coach Rick Adelman.

While those numbers may seem steep (because they no doubt are), similar to how a bad sports team has to overpay for the services of a player who would otherwise not consider signing there, so too does a sports franchise that such an accomplished coach otherwise wouldn’t give the time of day.

While its easy for any of us to say because its not our money, it's fair to say things have gotten so bad with the Minnesota Timberwolves, owner Glen Taylor simply has to roll the dice and pay up since the fan base is essentially a ghost town and apathy and irrelevance has long set in.

This isn’t an article about how Taylor is a billionaire and how it's “just” $25 million for the chance to potentially drastically improve the club in a way no other coach might. This is an article about how securing Adelman’s services might save the franchise and far outweigh any free agent signing the team might ever sign.

Once Adelman is offically on board, signing Kevin Love (who played high school basketball with Adelman's son) is all but a formality.
Once Adelman is offically on board, signing Kevin Love (who played high school basketball with Adelman's son) is all but a formality.John Sciulli/Getty Images

Why so dramatic? Well, first of all, we all know premier free agents never sign with Minnesota anyway. Signing Adelman would bring instant credibility to the team that NBA executives and ESPN talking heads think is a joke, led by Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations, David Kahn who they still can’t get over themselves about with his draft day trades and other minor mistakes. If Kahn seals this deal, please give him some credit and get off his back.

Signing a coach like Adelman is normally reserved for the big market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers who many fans assumed would end up there after Phil Jackson’s retirement and before Mike Brown ultimately ended up there. If not a big market, then it's usually a stable organization like Portland where he began his coaching career or a former power like Houston that had some nice pieces in Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady but whom never worked out there.

Signing Rick Adelman would force even the lamest skeptic to at least tip his cap to Kahn for he’d have got his team a credible coach whose only missed the playoffs four of his 20 years coaching.

Minnesota has a ton of young talent in Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, and Anthony Randolph. While the team isn’t balanced, as there is still a disproportionate ratio of power forwards to shooting guards, NBA insiders agree that talent is there and all they need is someone to utilize it and point them in the right direction.

The Wolves still need real veteran presence. 30 year old Luke Ridnour doesn't count.
The Wolves still need real veteran presence. 30 year old Luke Ridnour doesn't count.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Because they currently lack impact veterans—30-year-old Luke Ridnour, nor 24-year-old Martell Webster don't count, Adelman is all the more important in teaching the game, something Kurt Rambis, his predecessor couldn't do.

This is where a veteran coach like Adelman comes in.

It's not too rich a deal

Consider the fact that no rationale Wolves fan will expect the team to make the playoffs in Adelman’s first year. This will be seen as a feeling out process. After winning 17 games last year, I think 35 total wins would be a reasonable goal and good improvement.

What’s more important is in this “free pass” season of trial-and-error, the fans, suddenly filled with a renewed hope and belief that the playoffs could soon be near, likely will show up in droves at Target Center thus off-set the financial obligations of such a rich contract for at least the first year.

If Taylor and the Wolves are lucky, many of these fans will renew season tickets and show up for year two which only promises to build off the first and be more exciting. Maybe the win 40-45 games, maybe not. Maybe they are on the cusp of the playoffs with 45-49 wins, maybe not. If Taylor is lucky he breaks even again contract-wise with this lucrative deal.

Not to be lost in this is the anticipated free agency and probable re-signing of Oregon native Kevin Love upon the hire and inevitable success of Adelman who also lives in Oregon and whose son played with Love in high school. The buzz alone from this chemistry and new contract with Love ought to let the Wolves skate by a second season of paying Adelman’s rich contract.

The problem of such a deal only arises if, Adelman were to resign early due to health reasons as he is 65 but given that scenario, I am sure insurance would cover most of the contract which would likely include a buyout to help absorb the costs. Additionally, if by year three the Wolves are not showing enough progress (since, lets face it, they can’t take any more steps back—what are the going to do, win 15 games?) this is where the financial gamble would be wasted and where Taylor would really regret the decision.

In all, I think basically two honeymoon years for a chance at vast improvement and coaching stability that the franchise has not seen since Flip Saunders (1995-2006) is worth it. While I made this same mistake with unproven head coach and eventual disaster Kurt Rambis just two years ago, when I asked “If not him, then who?” The same question remains today.

Bottom line, if not him, then who?

Don Nelson? He’s my plan B if I ran the team. He’s even older and he didn’t exactly do anything after the initial overachieving first year in Golden State.

Bernie Bickerstaff? Please, that move just screams “cheap” and he hasn’t been relevant in the league for years as the game has passed him by.

Sam Mitchell? While I would accept it from a fan-favorite standpoint, like Bickerstaff it would look cheap, like they too the easy way out by signing a former player and fan favorite. Mitchell isn’t going to drive ticket sales or hope the same way an Adelman would.

Adelman is worth it. High risk (but only financially) but even higher reward. The fact he came to Minneapolis shows there is legit interest otherwise he wouldn’t be doing it. The Wolves must seal the deal in order to renew hope, faith, and inspiration to a fading fanbase in a state where the NBA is a distant fourth among the “Big 4” sports.

All Adelman has to do is lead the team to the playoffs some time during the duration of his contract and leave the team in good, respectable hands for the next guy whenever that is. Just making the playoffs after winning 32 games the last two years combined and missing out since 2004 would seem like winning the NBA title, at least in my mind.

Taylor has to take that chance if only to prove to what’s left of his base that he isn’t afraid or cheap enough to take that risk.

Past information from the Star Tribune and Jerry Zgoda's column, Twin Cities.com, and ESPN directly contributed to the content of this article.