By Bill Ingram
Senior NBA Editor
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It’s time to correct some misconceptions that are floating around about the coaching situation in Minnesota.
First and foremost, yes, Rick Adelman and Timberwolves president David Kahn did exchange some pleasantries following Adelman’s Houston Rockets’ 121-102 win over the Timberwolves on April 13. The two were acquaintances because they are both from the Portland, Oregon area, though to say they were friends might be overstating things. It’s being said that this was the beginning of some secret plot for Adelman to take over the Timberwolves organization, but nothing could be further from the truth. You see, at that time, two important events had not taken place: Rick Adelman had not officially stepped down as Houston’s head coach, and the Timberwolves had not yet decided to fire head coach Kurt Rambis.
The Houston Rockets, in fact, offered Adelman a contract, but he turned it down because he was tired of having to piece together lineups for a team that couldn’t seem to add the free agents they needed. Adelman just didn’t need the headache. He’s 65 years old, has more money than he knows how to spend, and really just cares about teaching and coaching. The more he has to worry about front office moves or anything else the more miserable he is. He was seriously considering just taking a year or two off from basketball, especially since it was a busy summer for his family and he wanted to be a part of all of that.
Did David Kahn know Adelman, and exchange some postgame pleasantries as many people from one team do with another following a game? Sure. Were they, at that time, planning to work together? Not at all.
It’s also completely inaccurate to characterize the relationship between Adelman and Kahn as contentious, in reference to Adelman’s time as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Kahn’s time as a journalist covering the team. If there were ever any hard feelings between the two, which both deny, that’s ancient water under a far away bridge. Let’s keep in mind – Adelman last coached the Blazers in 1994. Why would Adelman take a job he doesn’t need to work for a man he doesn’t like? He wouldn’t.
Next up we have the involvement of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor in the Adelman hire. It’s been suggested that Kahn couldn’t get the job done, that Adelman wouldn’t work with Kahn, so Taylor had to step in and close the deal. This is absolute nonsense. Taylor was in the room for discussions, as was team CEO Rob Moor, but it was Kahn’s call. The reason it took so long for Adelman to get on board was because he had several big events in his family and he wasn’t thinking about basketball. Once his calendar cleared, the deal with Minnesota progressed quickly, primarily handled by Kahn himself.
In fact, on a conference call on Tuesday, Adelman and Kahn openly laughed at this suggestion that they don’t get along for some reason.
Next up, Kevin Love. There is a perception that Adelman and Kevin Love are old family friends, that Adelman wanted to coach the Timberwolves so he could coach his son’s old high school basketball buddy. Adelman does have somewhat of a relationship with Love, but that didn’t figure prominently into his desire to coach the Timberwolves.
So now we have the reasons that did not figure prominently into Adelman’s decision to head to Minnesota. Why, exactly, did Rick Adelman take the job?
Simple. Rick Adelman is a teacher. He loves developing young players and he loves finding ways to make the most of his talent. He doesn’t need or care about the money, he wants nothing to do with front office politics. Rick Adelman wants to walk into a gym every day and teach kids how to play basketball and then turn that teaching into lessons that garner wins on the basketball court.
Crucial to this discussion was Ricky Rubio, the heralded Spanish point guard who is now facing questions about whether or not he can play at the NBA level. When Kahn was discussing Rubio with Adelman, the former Sacramento Kings head coach pointed out that he had once made something out of a young man named Jason Williams, who many thought would never be a good NBA point guard. Williams may never have been an All-Star, but he has had, to date, 12 seasons to his credit, largely because Adelman believed in him and helped him grow into the player he became.
Beyond that, when you look at the Timberwolves’ roster you see everything Adelman loves about the NBA. There are no egos, and there are only five players on their 16-man roster with more than three years of NBA experience. There are three international players on the squad, and it was Adelman’s Sacramento team (featuring Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu) that really put international basketball players on the NBA radar. In short, the Timberwolves are a virtual blank slate with enormous potential and their biggest areas of need are areas where Adelman has repeatedly shown strength.
The Timberwolves also present Adelman with the golden opportunity to take a team from the worst record in the Western Conference to respectability in what could be record time. Adelman’s track record for that sort of thing is virtually unmatched in the ranks of NBA head coaches. Instead of taking players and forcing them to change to fit a system, Adelman looks at his players’ strengths and creates a system to match – often on the fly. It’s what kept the Houston Rockets winning when their roster was overcome with injuries, and it’s what will make the Timberwolves a better team on Day One.
So, to set the record straight, it was Timberwolves president David Kahn who hired Rick Adelman. He did it directly, with Glen Taylor’s support, but not his direct involvement. Adelman’s interest in the job had little to do with money, and much more to do with the fact that he’s taking on a young, promising franchise with young players who he can mold into – hopefully – a playoff team.
Finally, the last thing on Rick Adelman’s mind is taking over as GM of the Timberwolves – or any other team – down the line. He wants to be down in the dirt with his players, and as far away from front office politics and dealings as he can possibly be.