MINNEAPOLIS — Even before the season commenced, Rick Adelman bore the appearance of a man whittled down by decades of coaching in the NBA. His wrinkled complexion, gray hair and tired eyes lent credence to the stresses of a summer spent deciding whether or not to continue coaching or hang up the whistle.
Five months, 76 games and a fistful of frustrating setbacks later, he doesn’t look much different. But one of the most trying seasons of his 23-year tenure assuredly has worn him down all the more.
"It’s been a weird year," Adelman said flatly.
Health issues surrounding the woman he loves. Sporadic instances of brilliance interspersed among the mediocrity that continues to infest the team he took over three years ago. Injuries and arrests. Never enough consistency to establish a set, comfortable rotation.
And lingering questions surrounding his — and the franchise’s — future throughout the season.
It’s a lot for any NBA coach to deal with, especially one in the twilight of his career. The popular consensus is that Adelman will coach his final six games between Tuesday and April 16, then retire to somewhere warm with his wife Mary Kay and relish the 1,000-plus victories that came with being the league’s winningest active coach.
The decision will come swiftly. Both Adelman and the Timberwolves have a contract option for 2014-15 — the fourth and final season of his deal — and a two-week period following the end of the season to act upon it.
There’s still a passion present that often fumigates his fatigue and frustration. But this hasn’t been the kind of season that would seem to keep Adelman itching to continue.
"I’m sure it’s been tough for him with us knuckleheads, then he has to deal with his family problems," said shooting guard Kevin Martin, who has played for Adelman in Minnesota, Sacramento and Houston. "But he did a great job of managing it at night, coaching us to victories."
First and foremost on Adelman’s mind, Mary Kay Adelman continues to suffer from a seizure disorder that’s taken him away from work on a few occasions. While her condition has improved since he missed 11 games last season, Adelman still had to step aside twice this season to tend to her, including a one-game absence in February.
Mary Kay Adelman’s health complications led to heavy speculation Adelman would retire following the 2012-13 campaign. But after an offseason of discernment, he showed up for training camp ready to go again.
It hasn’t gone according to plan.
Revamped with more scoring presence, primarily via Martin’s free-agent signing and Kevin Love’s return from injury, Adelman’s group ranks third in the NBA in scoring and 10th in point differential. Yet it lost its first 11 games decided by four points or less, hasn’t won more than three games in a row all season and has been more than one game above .500 just once since Nov. 16.
The lump sum of those numbers: a 10th straight season without making the playoffs, the NBA’s longest active drought.
A nagging ankle injury to center Nikola Pekovic during the second half of the season coupled with highly inconsistent bench play have prevented Adelman from establishing the eight- or nine-man substitution pattern he’s preferred since leading Portland to Western Conference championships in 1990 and 1992.
He likely won’t have more than 10 players available Tuesday night against San Antonio — Martin and Pekovic are out, Shabazz Muhammad and Chase Budinger are likely done for the season due to injury, and Dante Cunningham was arrested last Thursday and again Sunday and has been charged with felony domestic assault.
"He’s had to throw different lineups out there and give us different looks in order to get over the hump," said Love, whose impending decision on whether to stick around the Twin Cities or not also has hung over the franchise this season. "We’ve been able to get better through the season.
"But with Coach, he’s not out there playing. It’s definitely on us."
To Love’s point, the Timberwolves (38-38) have already won more games this season than any since 2004-05 and have a chance for their first 40-win season since then, too. And days like Friday, when Minnesota overcame the absence of Martin and Pekovic to outlast Miami in double-overtime, remind Adelman why he’s been doing this for so long.
That’s 1,040 career victories long.
"The Miami game was probably the best one we’ve had since I’ve been here," Adelman said after practice Monday.
Even with the club’s preseason goals lying in shambles, the oft-distant projected Hall of Famer was as loose as he’s been all season Monday, even sticking around to chat with reporters once the recorders and cameras were turned off.
The entire conversation centered on golf — the kind of chat you’d have with someone nearing retirement.
"We just wish him the best whatever he feels like he needs to do," Martin said. "We’ll be right beside him."