According to reports, the Timberwolves have hired Rick Adelman as their new head coach. It’s not official, though, and who knows when it actually will be finalized. This is, after all, an organization where things happen…slowly. Eight years to make the playoffs, 15 years to win a playoff series, two years to sign a draft pick, and three months to fire a coach who everyone in the basketball world – including the coach – knows has been fired. So this Adelman thing might still take some time.
Timberwolves fans – the three in southern Minnesota, four in the central part of the state and the one elderly gentleman in Moorhead – are understandably excited about the Adelman hiring. A legitimate head coach. For the Wolves. A guy who’s been to the NBA Finals twice. For the Wolves. A guy who led a moribund franchise in Sacramento out of the darkness and to within a game of the Finals in 2002. For the Wolves. A guy who kept Houston above water, despite career-threatening injuries to Tracy McGrady and career-ending ones to Yao Ming. For the Wolves.
The list of head coaches in Timberwolves history reads like a who-done-it: Who is that guy, and why’d the Wolves do it? The franchise started off on the right track with tough guy Bill Musselman, who, with 51 victories, was somehow the team’s all-time leader in victories until Flip Saunders passed him – four coaches later.
The Wolves fired Saunders in 2005 because the team suffered through a tough three-quarters of the season, only to discover that things weren’t quite so bad that year, considering the first seven disastrous seasons in franchise history and the past six.
So they have Adelman, a guy who would probably have several more NBA Finals appearances to his credit if the Lakers didn’t exist. I wanted the Lakers to hire Adelman after Phil Jackson climbed down from his high seat and onto his motorcycle in May. Instead they hired Mike Brown, who will bring defensive toughness but not LeBron to LA. Adelman’s always been a great offensive coach. Wolves fans – especially that guy in Moorhead – anticipate him putting together a fun team to watch, with Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, rookie Derrick Williams and the mysterious Rubio running up and down inside a Target Center that, hopefully, won’t just hold Glen Taylor and 2,000 of his closest friends and enemies. More importantly, he also wins.
Back to Adelman and the Lakers. He led the Clyde Drexler Blazers to the Finals in 1990, where they lost to Detroit in five games, dropping the final three in Portland. The next year, Portland went 63-19, the best mark in the league, two games better than the Bulls, five better than the Lakers. But in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers stole Game 1 in Portland, crushed the Blazers in Games 3 and 4, and finally closed it out in a wild Game 6 in the Forum. That game ended with one of Magic Johnson’s most famous plays and certainly his most effective turnover. After Terry Porter missed a go-ahead jumper, Magic grabbed the rebound and fired it down the court, where the clock should have run out. Inexplicably, the timekeeper – who was apparently part of a sleeper cell of Celtics supporters who had been extracted from the Boston Garden’s 1965 scoreboard crew in an effort to undermine the Lakers – stopped the clock for several seconds as the ball rolled down the court. It finally stopped with .1 left. Didn’t matter, as Portland was finished.
And this was my best memory of Rick Adelman, watching him wander off the Forum floor, in front of Jack Nicholson and Lou Adler, dazed, confused, wondering how it had all gone wrong for his talented crew.
In one of his crueler moments, Phil Jackson compared Adelman to Hitler. The mustache, I’m guessing. I hope. If Jackson instead had evidence of some type of war crime, it should have been investigated. Jackson’s teams always tormented Adelman’s. In 1992, Portland made it to the Finals again – only because Magic retired at the start of that year and the Lakers were neutralized before the season began and I am not bitter in the least about the whole situation – but Jackson’s Bulls ousted them in six games.
Eight years later, Adelman’s 8th-seeded Kings took the 67-win Lakers to five games in the opening round. In 2001 the Lakers swept the Kings aside, but the greatest devastation came the following season. Thousands of articles have been written about the 2002 Western Conference Finals – even Ralph Nader took a break from ruining presidential elections and got involved. Many people – including Nader – still think Game 6 was rigged or part of a conspiracy or just poorly reffed. Either way, it again ended with Adelman sulking off the court and Jackson smirking. The Lakers finished it off in Game 7, prevailing in Sacramento in overtime, on their way to a third straight title. Phil again got his man, and his title.
Adelman can coach. The only two years he finished under .500 came in the wasteland of Golden State in the mid-90s. Of course, the word wasteland and Timberwolves have likely been used together in the same sentence more than a handful of times, so there’s always the chance his career winning percentage will take a rather dramatic hit in the next two or three years. He’s 65. Unless the NBA contracts 24 teams in the next labor agreement and leaves only the Wolves, Kings, Clippers and a few other dregs, he’s going to finish his long career without an NBA title. He must be all right with that idea, which must mean he sees something else – some type of potential for growth or perhaps just an entertaining offense – in this current Wolves roster.
Signing a good coach isn’t anywhere close to the same thing as signing a dominant player. Players ultimately win, no matter the level. Everyone – with the possible exception of Dick Vitale, who likely wears Coach K footed pajamas to bed – knows this. But Adelman’s the most accomplished coach the Wolves ever hired. He’s not going to break Flip Saunders’ record for most victories but it’s safe to assume he’ll do better than Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair, Randy Wittman, Kurt Rambis, and Jimmy Rodgers.
And best of all for Adelman? Phil Jackson won’t eliminate his team this season.