Rick Adelman’s NBA coaching career, if you’ll pardon the cliché, is a lesson in adaptability. The longtime NBA coach has moved through a series of disparate outfits in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota, bringing sound spacing and pointed leadership to each stop, and it’s brought him great acclaim as one of the NBA’s best coaches.
Now that acclaim has hit the “all-time”-level, as Adelman became the eighth NBA coach in history to record 1000 career wins. That’s 240 more, many have pointed out, that the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise has to their name – and they’ve been playing for just as long as Rick has been coaching. Adelman achieved the milestone on Sunday after his rebuilding Wolves downed the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night, leading to this celebration on a Minnesota home court that has seen more defeat than conquest in a disappointing 2012-13.
Via Pro Basketball Talk, watch:
Adelman, through all his successes, has dealt with frustration before. There was the tough two-year stint coaching a dysfunctional Golden State Warriors squad, representing his lone below-.500 full seasons for the entirety of his career before he came to Minnesota. His Portland Trail Blazers teams from 1990 to 1993 were definitely championship-worthy, but Adelman’s squads suffered rough playoff exits at the hands of ring-worthy squads from Detroit, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And his Sacramento Kings teams from the previous decade may rank as the best NBA squads to never win a championship in the “We Can’t Blame Michael Jordan For Not Getting a Ring”-era. Through all the winning years, it’s still been a tough road to work through from time to time.
No season has been tougher than this one, though. The Wolves were thought to be a playoff team entering 2012-13, but injury woes knocked them out of contention early. More worrying, though, were the health woes of Adelman’s wife Mary Kay; necessitating an 11-game break from coaching this season.
Jon Krawczynski, one of the best if not the best NBA beat writer we have filing at the deadline in 2013, described the scene following Adelman’s milestone win:
The final seconds ticked down on Rick Adelman's 1,000th career victory, and a season's worth of hardship and heartache quickly evaporated. As his players surrounded him to celebrate, the 66-year-old basketball lifer quickly disengaged from the crowd, and everyone in the arena knew where he was headed.
His wife Mary Kay, his partner of four decades, the mother of his six children and the center of his universe, waited sheepishly at the corner of the court. Still head over heels for each other all these years later, the couple embraced. He kissed her once, twice, three times. An unforgettable moment in a painfully disappointing season that most agree can't end soon enough.
A needed bright spot, in a rough season that nobody in the Timberwolves franchise deserved. FOX Sports’ Joan Niesen described the shift in culture and outlook that Adelman was met with upon his return from the leave of absence:
That system, at least on the court, hasn't quite taken shape in Minneapolis. The "SAC" — meaning Sacramento — offense (other teams call it by that name) hasn't really surfaced with the Timberwolves, with too many injuries and a healthy dose of bad luck. Cutting to the basket, fluid ball movement — the tenets of Adelman's offense have more been talking points than actually put into practice, save glimpses when Kirilenko and Budinger have been healthy.
But the other system, the one of trust and responsibility and the culture of Adelman, that's installed and entrenched. This year's team is mature and accountable, if injured, and it knows what it has at the end of its bench. When Adelman missed 11 games this winter to tend to his ailing wife, Mary Kay, his return was greeted with a collective sigh of relief and what his team described as its best practice of the season. They missed him. They needed him.
Why? Because he’s one of the better coaches are league has to offer. Someone always on the ready to draw up an expertly-spaced system; something that is in place this season in Minnesota despite the team’s (by far, it should be noted) league-worst ranking in three-point percentage. Somehow, in dealing with the second tier reserves, exactly zero games of Kevin Love at his All-Star best (Love has played in 18 games this year, but he’s only shot 35 percent), and only a month or so of Ricky Rubio at his game-changing peak, Adelman has still made the Timberwolves an interesting, fun watch in spite of all the storm and stress.
NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, in talking with the NBA’s current dean of head coaches in San Antonio Spurs boss Gregg Popovich, details why:
"Most underrated coach of our era, generation, time, whatever you want to call it," San Antonio's Gregg Popovich said. "He's done an excellent job wherever he's been, and that was really apparent at Houston [2007-2011], where he had so many injuries but they didn't bat an eye.
"At both ends of the court, offensively and defensively, his teams really compete well, execute well. Now in Minnesota, he's getting that put together, doing the same thing. But he doesn't seek the camera, he's not out and about. He just does his job and goes home."
This is the fear, for both Timberwolves fans and appreciators of good basketball. Adelman has hinted at stepping aside following this season to spend more time with his wife, and we wouldn’t blame him for as much.
We just hope this isn’t the case. Not when these Timberwolves, given a clean bill of health in 2013-14, could add another 50 or so wins to Adelman’s total.