The Timberwolves have begun negotiating with Rick Adelman and appear to have settled on him as their favored coaching candidate, provided the price is right, according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Adelman reportedly wants about $25 million guaranteed over five seasons, a deal that would put him in the top tier of coaches. It’s an expensive price for a team that still owes money to former coach Kurt Rambis.
Still, hiring Adelman would be a coup for David Kahn and the Wolves, and not only because the 65-year-old coach has shown a preference, during non-Yao Ming seasons, for playing at a fast pace — something Kahn says he wants his Ricky Rubio-led squad to do. Adelman’s delightful Sacramento teams did rank at or near the top of the league in possessions per game during their best seasons, but pigeon-holing Adelman as an up-tempo maniac is obviously too simple. He’s a great all-around coach, adaptable to different personnel, and some strengths his teams have shared over the least decade dovetail nicely with Minnesota’s most glaring (and fixable) weaknesses.
There are two principles that sustained throughout Adelman’s tenures in Sacramento and Houston: His teams take care of the ball on offense and avoid fouls on defense.
Other trends came and went depending on rosters and health, but these two things are Adelman bedrocks. The Wolves turned the ball over more often last season, per possession, than any other team, and only two clubs (Golden State and Utah) fouled more often, according to Basketball-Reference. There won’t be a quick fix for this stuff — not with a rookie point guard leading young forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph on fast breaks. But Adelman’s style is fast without being reckless, and his teams play very sound ball on both ends.
People forget — or never realized — how good those Sacramento teams were defensively. Starting in 1999-2000, Sacramento ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per possession for four straight seasons, peaking at No. 2 in 2002-03. They were never elite on the glass and didn’t force tons of turnovers, but they always defended the three-pointer well and made opponents earn their points from the floor instead of the foul line.
Houston’s defense fell off without Yao, but it never fell into the bottom 10 under Adelman, even with the Rockets’ fatal size issues and a core that last season included some pretty poor defenders. Even the Yao-less Rockets managed to avoid fouls and squeeze the three-point line, though the absence of any paint protector likely encouraged opponents to pass up threes in favor of attacking the rim. Nevertheless, the underlying structure was solid in Houston.
The Wolves yielded 37.4 percent shooting from deep last season on a league-high 1,707 attempts. Even factoring in pace, opponents had a field day from deep. Adelman can only help.
And as Kevin Love has mentioned, Adelman’s passing- and motion-heavy corner offense should be a decent fit. He would have a big man in Love who is perfectly tailored to play the Luis Scola/Chris Webber role — a power guy with a developing back-to-the-basket game, an elite outside shot and a willingness to pass and cut from the high post. Rubio is a project, but he can see funky passing angles and already has great timing on his dishes. Adelman doesn’t run a traditional system heavy on high pick-and-rolls, and he thus requires point guards to shoot and cut more than some other guys. Still: Adelman can tweak to fit his personnel–he adjusted for Yao, after all–and Rubio should be able to work more aggressively off the ball than he does in Spain’s offense.
The questions come on the wing, where the Wolves badly need someone to emerge as a dependable outside shooter who can roam around the court, space the floor and catch-and-shoot with a quick release. Wesley Johnson might be that guy, but he was mostly a spot-up option last year who didn’t show much dynamism to his game, with or without the ball. A healthy Martell Webster should help, but the options at shooting guard beyond Johnson are pretty limited.
Sorting out the crowd of tweener forwards — Randolph, Beasley and No. 2 pick Derrick Williams — will be tricky, as will deciding how often the team should play “small,” with Love at center and these other guys sliding to power forward. That was not something Rambis preferred, but it’s fair to ask whether the Darko Milicic/Nikola Pekovic center combination should really be combining for nearly 40 minutes per game.
We know the Wolves won’t be very good next season, regardless of who coaches them. But there is no question that Adelman would be a tremendous hire in the short- and long-term, and for reasons well beyond his devotion to pushing the pace and his friendly relationship with Love. (Love and Adelman’s son, Patrick, were teammates in high school, and Love knows Adelman well.) Adelman has proved for two decades that he can build sound basketball teams. That’s good enough for now.
[UPDATE, 6:30 p.m. ET: The Associated Press is reporting that Adelman has agreed to a deal to coach the Timberwolves.]