After a disappointing 40-42 campaign, Rick Adelman has stepped down after three lackluster seasons as the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He will not be coaching, but Adelman is still remaining with the team in some capacity, as he will be a member of the front office as a consultant. It is believed that age as well as the health of his beloved wife, Mary Kay contributed to his decision. Adelman coached the team for three years, and has left the Timberwolves knowing that they are in a better position now than they were three seasons ago.
The decision is bittersweet because this move comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody. Adelman was close to retiring last offseason, and as frustration mounted and the inevitabilities of missing the playoffs yet again set in this season, it became abundantly clear that he had about enough. He is without question a great coach, and for that he will leave Timberwolves fans sad about his departure. Under his tutelage, young guys like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic flourished into household names. On the other hand, he did endure some warranted criticisms during his three-year tenure for failing to get this talented group to reach higher levels of success.
The team Adelman inherited three years ago won 32 games over the course of two years. The addition of some big talent and the rise to prominence of Kevin Love under Adelman’s tutelage leaves the Timberwolves in a much better situation going into this coaching search. As beloved as Adelman was, there were some big decisions and trends during his tenure that left fans craving more. Adelman was unable to get this team to put forth any consistency on defense. More importantly, he often utilized questionable rotations throughout the game, and would stick with set orders of substitutions instead of mixing and matching depending on the flow of the game. There were far too many blown fourth quarter leads this past season that happened strictly because the bench was left on the court for eight of the 12 minutes in the final period.
Perhaps the biggest criticism was his failure to enhance growth in his young players. He showed little to no faith in No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams from day one, and this year urged management to trade him for cents on the dollar to bring in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a player he vowed would make the team better. Minnesota also had two rookies drafted in the first round this season in Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad. One could make a legitimate argument that Minnesota’s two biggest weaknesses this season were rim protection and bench scoring.
Once Nikola Pekovic got injured, Dieng exploded onto the scene and won the NBA rookie of the month award. His shot blocking and overall skill-set meshed very well with Kevin Love, and he at the very least proved that he was far too talented to wallow on the bench for the season’s first four months. He could have easily been used to complement Pekovic and also keep the big man healthy by limiting his workload. As for Muhammad, he saw less than eight minutes a game. Minnesota’s leading bench scorer this season was the 8.4 points per game it got from J.J. Barea. The Timberwolves would lose games early in the season and also later because Adelman relentlessly stuck with Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger and Robbie Hummel in his perimeter rotation while Muhammad rarely left the bench.
Muhammad’s best game of the year came in Phoenix, where he posted 20 points including ten in the fourth quarter. His outburst was the reason Minnesota did not fall short in yet another fourth quarter collapse, an issue that plagued the team the entire season. Muhammad did not see more than 17 minutes of playing time in any game the rest of the season despite showing substantial improvement. He shot 50 percent from the field after the All-Star break, but Adelman stuck by his rotations.
Nevertheless, there is no doubting Adelman’s coaching prowess. He made two NBA finals appearances in the early 90’s with Portland, and has the eighth most victories all-time. His tenure in Minneapolis may not have gone as well as he would have hoped, but he still did a good job and this team is better off having played for him. He brought stability to a coaching position that had been a revolving door in previous years. Adelman will be undoubtedly missed, but there are brighter days ahead for the Timberwolves.
Commentary by Justin Hussong