MINNEAPOLIS — As his 23rd season as an NBA coach entered the home stretch, Rick Adelman looked tired.
Tired of trying to wring a few more wins out of a talented, defensively deficient roster. Tired of getting on an airplane at midnight after a game and landing somewhere across the country at 3 a.m. Tired, most of all, of putting his wife Mary Kay and her lingering health issues second to a job that, when done right, is all-consuming.
So when he finally decided to step away, announcing his retirement from the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, he did so with mixed feelings about the life he is leaving behind and the one that awaits him.
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"It becomes your life, your family’s life, an everyday routine," Adelman said of the NBA. "It’s a real grind. You get some time off in the summer but it’s pretty much on your mind all the time, so there’s some sadness but there’s also a relief. I’m ready and my wife’s ready to move on to another phase. We’re looking forward to that."
Adelman and the Timberwolves had a mutual option in place in the four-year contract he signed in 2011. His announcement did not come as a surprise after the Wolves finished a disappointing 40-42, but it nevertheless marked an unceremonious end to a career that includes 1,042 victories, putting him eighth on the NBA’s career list. He coached Western Conference powers in Portland and Sacramento and also had stops in Golden State and Houston.
Adelman said the time is right for him to step aside and spend more time with Mary Kay, who has been treated for seizures over the last two years. He also thinks the Wolves need a fresh voice to help them try to persuade star power forward Kevin Love to remain in Minnesota.
"If anything, I felt if I coached another year and then his future comes up and my future is gone, that makes it even harder," Adelman said. "I think it’s best for the organization to have somebody else coaching the team, give them a year to see what they can do and hear that voice. I think that’s a much more positive situation for the organization. I feel strongly about that."
After missing the playoffs for the third straight season, the 67-year-old Adelman decided it was time to walk away from one of the most quietly influential coaching careers in NBA history. The introverted coach worked below the radar for most of his career, but his impact on the league is unquestioned.
Adelman won at least 50 games in a season 11 times in his career, led the Portland Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals appearances and then developed a post-passing offense in Sacramento that continues to influence the league. He had more modest success with Houston and Minnesota, but walks away with his fingerprints all over the league.
While with the Kings, Adelman worked with assistant and former Princeton coach Pete Carril to fine-tune his famed "corner" offense, a precision system that maximized the talents of big men Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Brad Miller, all of whom were gifted passers from the elbow of the lane.
"A lot of people have run the elbow action, but no one’s run it like him," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "He started doing it in Portland and then in Sac, everywhere he’s gone he’s won for the most part. He’s one of the better coaches that we’ve ever had in the league and a lot of people don’t realize that. And I think that’s too bad. But he’s been good for the game. He’s brought a lot to the game."
"I’ve stolen from him, very honestly," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Adelman’s final season in Minnesota was a frustrating one, with Nikola Pekovic missing 28 games, Chase Budinger never fully healthy after offseason knee surgery and a team that beat the Thunder, Heat, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Pacers but also lost to the Kings, Magic and Jazz.
Now the team heads into a precarious summer, with President Flip Saunders needing to find the right coach and make the right personnel moves to keep Love, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, a friend of Saunders for years, ESPN analyst George Karl and former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins are among the candidates likely to be considered to take over a team that has the longest-running playoff drought in the league at 10 years. Saunders himself could also take over, though owner Glen Taylor has said he prefers to keep Saunders in the front office.
Saunders hinted Monday that a coach who has experience running the show is the preference.
"Be demanding, hold players accountable, just like any good coach, everyone has the same formula what you are looking for," Saunders said. "We are more geared toward bringing someone who has a track record, who’s had some success."
Adelman said he had "a sour taste" with how this season finished, especially with a lackluster effort in a season-ending home loss to the Jazz. He’s not sure what he’s going to do with all his free time. Probably play a lot of golf, definitely spend Christmas at home with his family and just maybe — "You never say never" — listen to another coaching offer down the road.
Adelman said a return is very unlikely, and it sounded believable when he was asked what it was going to feel like to wake up on Tuesday morning without the job to worry about. He smiled and his face brightened.