Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement Monday, confirming season-long notions he’d coach his last regular-season game when Minnesota hosted Utah on Wednesday, April 16. With an ailing wife he loves dearly at his side and more than two decades of successes, failures and tight-knit relationships behind him, the future Hall of Famer has decided it’s time to move on.
But not without leaving a widespread and profound impact.
"He’s probably the most underrated basketball coach in the NBA," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He’s one hell of a coach."
After 23 seasons, Adelman hangs it up as the NBA’s winningest active coach and ranks eighth all-time in victories. Last season against Detroit, he became the eighth head man to amass 1,000 wins.
His final record: 1,042-749.
Not one of those triumphs brought with them a championship trophy — a big part of the reason why constituents consider him one of the game’s most understated figures. But 16 of Adelman’s teams in his first 18 seasons reached the playoffs, and two of his first three full seasons as a head coach in Portland concluded in the NBA Finals.
Then came stints with Golden State (1995-97) and Houston (2007-11) sandwiched around eight strong years in Sacramento from 1998-06. On Sept. 13, 2011, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and president of basketball operations David Kahn brought him on to replace Kurt Rambis, the last in a string of coaches unable to bring the franchise back to relevance after Kevin Garnett’s departure.
Adelman nudged it closer, compiling a 97-133 record in his three years here. But Minnesota just wrapped up its 10th straight playoffs-bereft season, and Adelman himself hadn’t made it back to the postseason since 2009.
And while nurturing point guard Ricky Rubio since his rookie season and overseeing Kevin Love’s blossoming into an All-Star starter, Adelman dealt frequently with health issues concerning his wife, Mary Kay Adelman. Her seizure disorder prompted Adelman to step aside for 11 games last season; this year, he missed one contest and a handful of practices to be with her while doctors adjusted her medication.
A season featuring 12 losses by four points or fewer and 13 defeats against non-playoff teams wore him down even further.
"Eighty-two games is a long season," said assistant David Adelman, Rick’s son, "and we felt like we were still searching for what rotation and what was the right way to have the team come out every night, and you just can’t do that."
Both Rick Adelman and the Timberwolves were able to opt out of 2014-15, the final season on his contract. Once Minnesota fell out of playoff contention, it became readily apparent Adelman was likely on his way out.
He may have already been. The 67-year-old spent most of last summer contemplating retirement before deciding his wife’s health was stable enough and he had enough left in the tank for another year of coaching.
"When I took this job, I felt there were some pieces here and we could turn the thing around and that we could put the franchise in the right direction," Adelman said at the team’s media day in late September. "We had more pieces. We’ve changed a lot of people. So I think the organization is going in the right direction. I think it’s something I wanted to do and finish."
When it comes to NBA lore, Adelman isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley or even Popovich, who’s one spot behind Adelman on the league’s all-time wins list. But the legacy he leaves behind stretches from decade to decade and coast to coast.
His first NBA shot came courtesy of former Trail Blazers coach Jack Ramsay, who hired Adelman onto his staff in 1983. When Portland fired Mike Schuler — Ramsay’s 1986 replacement — three years later, Adelman was promoted to head coach to finish out the season.
The Blazers front office removed the interim tag in 1989. With a combination of skill — guards Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler — and power — bigs Cliff Robinson and Buck Williams — Adelman led the club to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, where it lost to Detroit and Chicago, respectively.
"Those were just huge, huge moments," said Porter, now an assistant with the Timberwolves. "Me being a player and him being a coach, we had a great relationship talking about the game and just talking about different facts or points of what can make our team better, what can make me better as a player."
Adelman’s success was more sustained in Sacramento during the tenure for which most will remember him as a burgeoning offensive genius. Adelman brought in Princeton offense guru Pete Carril as an assistant and adapted the schemes to fit passing big men Vlade Divac and Chris Webber.
The corner offense, it’s called today.
With the aforementioned post pair and later Brad Miller serving as centerpieces, the Kings made the playoffs all eight seasons Adelman spent in California’s capital city.
In 2002, they clinched the Western Conference’s first seed, lost two games on the way to the conference finals and took eventual league champ Los Angeles to seven games. Combining a high tempo with Adelman’s offensive philosophies and Webber’s post prowess, Sacramento was regarded as one of the most entertaining teams in basketball.
The Kings hadn’t posted a winning record in 15 seasons before Adelman took over — a time span dating back to when the franchise was located in Kansas City.
"He got that franchise completely turned around," said ESPN NBA analyst Jon Barry, who played under Adelman in Golden State and Sacramento. "He was one of my favorites. He provides a great locker-room atmosphere and always makes it fun to come to work. That can be hard to do."
After Portland dismissed him at the end of the 1993-94 season, Adelman took over the Warriors in 1995. He was fired two years later after Golden State went 66-98 during the next two seasons.
He led the Rockets to the postseason his first two seasons there, including a West semifinals bid in 2009. But they decided not to renew Adelman’s contract after Houston missed the playoffs each of the next two years.
But Adelman wasn’t out of work long. In 2011, he took over the Timberwolves with a mind for another reclamation project.
With Love, Rubio and center Nikola Pekovic in the fold, the pieces were in place. But a bevy of injuries during Adelman’s first two seasons and a painful helping of close defeats this year have rendered the gains under him merely minimal.
Minnesota has increased its win total each of the past three seasons. This year marks the franchise’s first 40-win season since 2004-05.
But the crowning moment of Adelman’s time with the Timberwolves came April 6, 2013. That night at the Target Center, Minnesota bested Detroit 107-101 to hand Adelman his 1,000th regular-season victory.
Afterward, he immediately embraced and kissed his wife. "She had to be a part of it," Adelman said then. "I told her I had to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that. She’s been there all the years. When you go through a job like this and the situations, we’ve moved and raised six kids and everything else. If it wasn’t for her, I could have never done it."
Born June 16, 1946 in Lynwood, Calif., Adelman played high school hoops at St. Pius X in Downey, Calif., and college ball at Loyola Marymount University. The San Diego Rockets picked him up in the seventh round of the 1968 NBA Draft, and the point guard went on to average 7.7 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game in a seven-year playing career that included stops in Portland, Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City and Omaha, where the Kings spent three seasons before shifting to solely Kansas City in 1975.
Before Ramsay plucked him from obscurity, Adelman oversaw the Chemeketa Community College (Salem, Ore.) men’s basketball program for six seasons. He and his wife still call Portland, Ore., home.
Most NBA coaches admit they’ve taken at least some part of Adelman’s offensive playbook and deployed it in their strategies. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls him a major influence. Clippers coach Doc Rivers even used a play called "Adelman" when he coached in Boston.
But for all his creativity, Adelman was equally old-school. Quiet and reserved on the exterior, he saved his engaging side for his players and family members, two of whom are part of a coaching tree that branches out all over the basketball world.
Timberwolves assistant David Adelman and director of player personnel R.J. Adelman (both Rick’s sons), Porter, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, former coach Byron Scott, Kings advisor Chris Mullin and San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher all either played for or coached with Adelman at some point.
It’ll be up to them to help honor his memory. And it’ll be up to Taylor and current president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to find a new coach that can continue the progress Adelman’s made and fancy Love enough to perhaps re-sign him after next season.
College coaches Fred Hoiberg and Tom Izzo are on the list of potential candidates along with Saunders himself and veteran NBA head coach George Karl.
Whomever the Timberwolves hire will be replacing a legend.
"Every coach in this league has taken some of his concepts," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "To achieve the way he has over such a long period of time, that’s why he’s a great coach."