In the summer of 2011, the Minnesota Timberwolves were about to begin a new era. Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio was about to make his way from Spain to the Twin Cities and Kevin Love was about to emerge as one of the elite players in the NBA.
It seemed like everything was falling into place under David Kahn’s watchful eye and the Timberwolves were possibly one piece away from being a factor in the rugged Western Conference. They just needed a successful coach.
The search for the man who would replace Kurt Rambis would stretch into September and feature several squabbles between Kahn and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. While Kahn floated out names such as Bernie Bickerstaff, Taylor wanted to go with an established commodity who had success in the league. In this case, the guy writing the checks won and the Timberwolves hired Rick Adelman.
This was supposed to be a match made in heaven. Adelman had been a successful coach that had lead the Portland Trailblazers to a pair of Western Conference finals and established an early-2000s juggernaut with the Sacramento Kings. With a built-in benefit of a relationship with their star player dating back to his high school days, the Timberwolves were ready to go.
Then, something happened on the way to the championship parade on Nicollet Avenue. With Adelman announcing his retirement on Monday afternoon, the Timberwolves limped to a 97-133 record in three seasons. The wins never came on a consistent basis, and Love currently wants to head to Los Angeles, New York or anywhere in the league that doesn’t resemble an eighth-grade “B” squad.
The Timberwolves also squandered several opportunities to give Adelman something to work with. While most of Kahn’s moves failed, it was Adelman’s input that put Minnesota in a hole as well.
In a scene reminiscent of a high school cafeteria, Adelman wanted to get guys that knew his system while shunning the ones that couldn’t cut it. That lead to younger players like Derrick Williams, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad rotting on the bench while Adelman insisted on playing Robbie Hummel and Chase Budinger.
To make matters worse, there were veterans that also couldn’t crack the lineup under Adelman. The Timberwolves traded Williams when he couldn’t get out of Adelman’s doghouse and when they presented Luc Mbah a Moute in return, he was immediately relegated to William’s old benchwarmer role.
That’s not to say Mbah a Moute would have helped, but what if Minnesota had pulled the trigger on the Tony Allen/Tayshawn Prince for Budinger/J.J. Barea swap that was rumored at the trade deadline? Would Adelman have given his new pieces some cushy chairs next to Mbah a Moute?
There’s also the case that Adelman’s bad luck had followed him to Minnesota. Even when he was a success, his teams always seemed to be snakebitten. During his two Western Conference championships with the Portland Trail Blazers, he ran into two legendary teams in the 1989-90 Detroit Pistons (aka the “Bad Boys”) and the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls (who were starting to come into their own thanks to some guy named Michael Jordan).
After a brief stint with Golden State, Adelman then went to Sacramento where the Kings were lead by a lethal post duo with Chris Webber and Vlade Divac. Despite five 50+ win seasons during his tenure, he could never lead the Kings to the NBA Finals with the most notable failure being the 2002 Western Conference finals where some still feel that the series had been rigged to allow the Lakers to win.
There was another quick stint in Houston, but the Timberwolves were supposed to finally break through and put the bad luck behind him. With a 20-20 record after the first 40 games of the 2011-12 season, it looked like things were peaking until Ricky Rubio tore his ACL. Then Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Then Nikola Pekovic‘s ankles kept falling apart. Budinger kept getting hurt…you get the point.
As injuries and a lack of the clutch gene late in games (as evidenced by Grantland’s Zach Lowe earlier this year) started to show, it turned out that Adelman wasn’t going to be able to magically fix the Timberwolves. With that, he rides off into the sunset for a franchise that currently sees three of it’s former head coaches (Dwayne Casey, Randy Wittman and Kevin McHale) coaching playoff teams.
It’s a big unknown as to who will be the next up to save the Timberwolves. But the failure of the Adelman era is a giant punch in the gut. If a coach who has won 1,042 games in his career can’t turn this team around, who can? It’s a question that president of basketball operations Flip Saunders must answer quickly, otherwise the suffering will continue in the Twin Cities.
Chris Schad is a staff writer for Hoops Habit covering the Minnesota Timberwolves. His work has also been featured on Pro Football Spot and Cold Omaha. You can follow Chris on Twitter @crishad.