On Wednesday, the Rick Adelman-led Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Chicago Bulls by a 102-87 score. The loss dropped the Wolves to .500, a record that in most years prior to the post-Jordan era would earn a Western Conference team a playoff berth, and a mark that would easily slide Minnesota into the eighth spot in this year’s Eastern playoffs bracket. Minnesota will not be making the playoffs this year, though.
Wolves forward Kevin Love hyper-extended his right (shooting) elbow during the game and suffered through a 7-20 night, Bulls center Joakim Noah abused both Love and impressive Minnnesota rookie big man Gorgui Dieng for a 15-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, as the Timberwolves (who were officially eliminated from the playoffs earlier in April) continued to play out the string.
Which is a shame, on so many levels. For one, it will deny NBA fans the chance to watch the brilliant Kevin Love play into the postseason. It will leave one of the NBA’s most fluid and entertaining offenses, even if that offense’s shots aren’t falling, from playing playoff ball, and it will call into question the mettle of a roster with a point differential that typically results in a 50-win season, instead finishing a year with a mediocre win/loss record.
It could also sign off on the idea that coach Rick Adelman, who has been rumored to want to walk away from Minnesota following this season, could be coaching his last week in the NBA.
Adelman hasn’t signed off on any such notion, he’s not the type that would want the go-to rocking chair ceremony to hit during a meaningless regular season game in mid-April, but he’s also nearing 68 years of age, and he has the health of his wife to consider. Rick has missed one game this season and had to leave the team for 11 games last season to help attend to his wife Mary Kay, who has struggled with seizures, and it would make complete and total sense for Adelman to decline to opt in to the final year of his four-year contract.
The Timberwolves and Adelman have until the end of April to determine if either side wants to continue with the partnership, a duel coach/team contract option that has the hallmarks of former general manager David Kahn all over it – because every coach of any age, no matter the context or even sport, wants to walk away from the gig just a fortnight after a long, grueling season. The firing of Kahn in 2013 would seem to have brightened things from Adelman’s prospective, but the ascension of the winningest coach in Wolves history – new’ish Minnesota president Flip Saunders – has left some wondering whether Saunders will want to work as a band-aid coach in 2014-15 in order to make one last effort to keep potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love in the fold.
Adelman’s time with the Timberwolves has yet to produce a playoff appearance, and in the postseason’s absence we’ve seen a seemingly incurable strain of strangeness surrounding this team.
Kahn’s era produced heaps of blown high lottery picks (Love’s 2008 NBA draft selection was by former coach/GM Kevin McHale), and though Saunders’ contract extension of solid offensive center Nikola Pekovic (also a McHale pick) and signing of Kevin Martin last summer looked good on paper, injuries and inconsistency have rendered the Wolves lottery participants yet again.
Which means Rick Adelman could go out without having won a championship as a coach, while spending his last three NBA seasons minding the sideline store of one of the oddest NBA clubs in recent memory. Absolutely no way to go out, though this may have to be the case.
It could be yet another hallmark of one of the more sadder aspects of Adelman’s coaching career, because while the Loyola Maramount product and seven-year NBA playing veteran has had his moments in the sun, those years have also included terrible timing and unfortunate luck in spite of the talent of the players and coaching staffs involved.
Adelman became Portland Trail Blazers head coach in 1989, and took one of the great teams to have never won a championship to the Finals in 1990 and 1992, only to lose to Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons (though Joe Dumars was the star of that series) and Michael Jordan’s Bulls in those respective years. Adelman watched as the Blazers dealt Clyde Drexler to the Houston Rockets for serviceable but non-All-Star forward Otis Thorpe in 1995, only to witness Drexler help those Rockets win their second consecutive title a few months later.
Adelman joined the Golden State Warriors during the 1995 playoffs to act as their head coach, hoping to settle a team that had been rocked by the rift between former coach/GM Don Nelson and Chris Webber in the years prior. The new coach watched as GM Garry St. Jean drafted Joe Smith tops in the 1995 draft, dealt Tom Gugliotta (the forward acquired for Webber who would later go on to be an All-Star) for Donyell Marshall, traded Tim Hardaway for the aging Kevin Willis, and drafted Todd Fuller in the 1996 NBA draft. The coach was fired over the 1997 offseason; and in a rare stroke of good timing, it took place just before Latrell Sprewell hit his breaking point, as Sprewell attacked Adelman’s successor P.J. Carlesimo during an early season practice in 1997-98.
Hired by Princeton devotee Geoff Petrie to guide the Sacramento Kings in 1998, Adelman immediately set to work with a re-jigged Kings club that had added Webber, Vlade Divac, Jon Barry, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Williams over a tumultuous 1998-99 offseason. The team nearly toppled the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the first round of that year’s playoffs, almost becoming the second eighth seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1 seed at the time, and struck the same fear into the Los Angeles Lakers during the first round in 2000.
By 2001 and 2002, though, the Kings had grown into championship contenders under Adelman. And though Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were dominant, Allen Iverson was inspiring, and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan was rock steady over this spell, the up-tempo Kings were the only team anyone wanted to watch during one of the low points in the NBA’s history. Part of this was on Rick Adelman going against the grain, and pairing a willingness to let his team run with his own Princeton-movement instincts. With former Princeton Tigers coach Pete Carril watching from the sidelines as Kings assistant coach, the Kings were barely toppled (and some would say robbed) in a 2002 Western Conference final that was far more competitive and telling than that year’s dreary NBA Finals between the Lakers and outclassed New Jersey Nets.
Chris Webber injured his knee in the 2003 playoffs, though, necessitating a microfracture surgery that would just about destroy his career. The addition of Brad Miller turned the Kings into a championship contender in 2004, but the team lost to a top-seeded Minnesota squad in the last year that the Timberwolves would make the playoffs to date. The Kings traded Webber midway through 2004-05 for a rotating cast of lesser players with even worse contracts, and Adelman and Sacramento parted ways in 2006.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey latched on to Adelman in 2007, hoping his fluid offense could help turn a team led by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady into a champion, but both players would succumb to injury soon enough, even if Adelman’s offense and deft touch with player personnel helped the Rockets win 22 consecutive games in 2008. Three more solid seasons followed, as Adelman circled the wagons while Morey acquired the assets that would spark up a Houston turnaround long after Adelman left the team. The partnership ended as Adelman moved to Minnesota to help clean up the disastrous turn by former Wolves coach Kurt Rambis, while making sense of the flotsam and jetsam that Kahn had provided for him.
Obviously, it hasn’t turned out. Rick Adelman’s time in Minnesota has been undercut by the after effects of four badly failed drafts in a row by Kahn, Ricky Rubio’s inability to develop a shooting or finishing touch (something that was in place years before Kahn drafted him), the impossibly strange late game failures for the squad in 2013-14, and crucial injuries throughout.
Rick Adelman may have a week left, and he probably doesn’t want a party to be thrown for him in his honor as he walks away. Defy the man’s wishes, NBA fans.
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