Sitting on 999 career victories, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman is on the brink of joining an exclusive club that is sure to bring some long overdue attention his way.
The Timberwolves host the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, when he will try to become the eighth coach in NBA history to win 1,000 career games.
"I've said it many times, I think he's the most underrated coach in the league. ... Even the guys that he's coached in the past that are on other teams now, they still do the things that he taught them offensively," San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's very creative in that sense. ... He's one of those guys, he doesn't try to get the camera. He couldn't care less. He just wants to do his job and go home. And he does it well."
One more win would put Adelman on a list with Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl as men who had the staying power, resilience and coaching chops to climb to this summit. He's widely considered one of the best Xs and Os guys in the game, a coach who can take his five and beat yours or your five and beat his.
Adelman took the Blazers to two NBA finals in 5 1/2 seasons, followed that up with two tough years with Golden State, then turned Sacramento into one of the most exciting teams in the league at the turn of the century. He weathered injuries to stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in Houston to bring the Rockets to the playoffs twice in four seasons - winning 22 straight games in 2008 - before coming to Minnesota in 2011.
"I don't know how to say it, but I'm so happy to be with that coach," Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. "It seems like he knows everything. I feel comfortable with him. It's something that he has and you can't explain it. Once you are on his team, he's giving you advice, it's like a clinic every single day.
"He lets us play and that's pretty cool for me. I like when I'm out there and playing like it's a playground and it's the NBA. It's fun."
In a week that has been dominated by video of former Rutgers coach Mike Rice's abusive behavior toward his players, Adelman's low-key approach stands out even more. He rarely raises his voice, prefers to stay in the background and lets his players receive all the attention. In an era where coaches sometimes have the biggest personalities in the arena, the only time Adelman catches anyone's attention is when he strays from his trademark black wardrobe and dons a black shirt with stripes instead.
"I don't know what a player's coach is, but I know it's a players' league and you better understand that," Adelman said. "It's your job to get the players to respond in a positive way, to put them in a position to succeed and put the team in position to succeed. They're going to respond to that."
There have been a few rough seasons along the way. When you're around for 22 years, how can there not be? But none have been as trying as this one. A team that started with playoff aspirations has languished under the weight of a litany of injuries and Adelman missed 11 games to be with his wife, who was treated for seizures.
Her condition, while improved lately, has caused Adelman to consider calling it a career when the season is over. He said now is not the time to discuss his future. There won't be any playoffs this year for him and a second straight losing season is already assured. But he said he'd be lying if he didn't think about getting No. 1,000, and his players want that even more than he does.
"He deserves it, especially this year," Rubio said. "He stayed with the team and he has all my respect for that. We just want to make a run here and give him good news."
Rubio and Nikola Pekovic have helped the Timberwolves (28-46) play better of late, winning two straight and five of eight. Rubio had 19 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a 107-98 win at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Pekovic had 27 points after scoring 29 in Monday's victory over Boston.
Pekovic could face a tough matchup with emerging Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, averaging 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds over the past five games. He had a career-high 24 points, including 16 free throws, in an 88-78 win over Washington on Wednesday.
That was just the second victory in nine games for Toronto (28-47), which is in the Atlantic Division basement while Minnesota sits at the bottom of the Northwest.