Wolves end year with tough-to-stomach setback, enter offseason of uncertainty
MINNEAPOLIS — Silence.
The Timberwolves’ public relations employee tried to indicate Kevin Love was done taking questions, but someone had to ask it.
"Do you expect to be on this team next fall?" the reporter asked, just as the postgame media scrum was about to be shooed away.
Love didn’t say a word, just staring blankly past his heavily wrapped knees into the ice bucket soothing his aching feet.
Whether Love, who has an option on his contract for 2015-16, will force the franchise’s hand by telling its front office he plans to opt out remains to be seen. So, technically, does the status of coach Rick Adelman, the future hall of fame coach who in all likelihood oversaw his final game Wednesday night.
Without directly confirming his retirement, Adelman spoke before Wednesday’s 136-130, double-overtime loss like a man who’s moving on, reminiscing about his Trail Blazers and Kings teams that went deep into the playoffs and thanking his family — particularly his wife Mary Kay, who was among the 14,155 people in attendance — for their support throughout the years.
It’s his spouse’s seizure disorder that caused Adelman to miss time each of the past two seasons and consider retirement last summer. And it’s one of the main reasons no one around the Target Center expects him back next season.
"I’m not gonna say anything about it right now," Adelman said. "I need to sit down with Glen and Flip, and we just need to talk about the situation, and then it’ll be determined. Like I’ve said before so many times, I want these guys to finish the season out, and I’ve asked them to stay with it. ‘Don’t start looking ahead, don’t start thinking about what’s gonna happen tomorrow. Get this win tonight.’ And that’s how I’ve tried to approach it.
"If I did it any other way, then I wouldn’t be doing what I asked them to do."
Both Adelman and the team can opt out of next season, the final one on his contract. Each side has a two-week window starting Thursday in which to make a decision, but Adelman said it’ll happen sooner than later.
He expects to converse with president of basketball operations Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor on Thursday or Friday while the team conducts exit interviews with its players. Taylor said he’ll be at the NBA’s board of governors meeting Thursday and Friday, so that discussion may not take place till early next week.
In any case, Adelman — 1,042-749 all-time and 97-133 in three seasons in Minnesota — will walk away as the league’s winningest active coach and eighth on its all-time victories list.
"There’s only a few guys that have won a thousand games," said assistant Terry Porter, who played for Adelman in Portland during the late 1980s and early 90s, "so I think the legacy is there."
It wasn’t supposed to end like this, though. So quiet, so still. But in a season where the Timberwolves didn’t make nearly enough noise, it was all too fitting.
"Everything looks better on paper when you start the season. It’s the same thing when you do a scouting report; everything looks really good on paper," Adelman said. "You’ve got answers, and then suddenly you find out maybe it’s not what you’d thought, and I think that’s probably the realistic way to look at it.
"You look at the game, and it’s kind of the way the season went."
Indicative, in so many ways:
— Minnesota (40-42) finished the year two games below .500 after hovering around that mark all season long. While the club won more games than it has since 2004-05, the Timberwolves missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season, the NBA’s longest active drought.
Snapping it had been their goal when the team convened in Mankato for training camp. But a handful of close losses and a series of late-season injuries later, a perplexing group that had Adelman befuddled all season was settling for a non-losing record.
And even that objective wasn’t met.
"We obviously wanted to finish .500 or better," said Love, who made his third All-Star Game this season but has yet to play on a winning or even team in his six-year career, "but they came out and played harder than us."
— They needed two overtimes against an inferior team. While the Timberwolves had been out of the playoff picture for days, the Jazz (25-57) were even worse. They finished last in the Western Conference and may have seen Tyrone Corbin, an original member of the Timberwolves as a player, coach his last game with the franchise.
Yet Utah was allowed to build a 19-point lead and outgutted Minnesota in the second of two overtimes. Guard Trey Burke — whom the Timberwolves drafted last summer but dealt on draft night for the rights to Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng — led six players in double figures with 32 points, including the Jazz’s final nine points in the final extra session.
This same Utah team had lost 21 of its 24 previous games. This same Minnesota team knocked off Miami, San Antonio and Houston in the past 12 days.
The Timberwolves won 11 games by 20 or more points. They lost 12 contests decided by four points or fewer.
And 13 of their losses, including Wednesday’s, came against non-playoff teams. Minnesota finished nine games back of a postseason spot.
After his 23rd and probably final year as a head coach, Adelman is still shaking his head.
"When you look at the fact that we didn’t finish .500, we’ve got a three-point differential plus for our team because of the blowouts we’ve had and the close losses we’ve had," Adelman said. "That is a hard one to figure out why the inconsistencies."
— Love came within a whisker of a triple-double. The All-Star starter’s 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists ensured he’s the first NBA player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76 to average 26 or more points, 12-plus rebounds and four-plus assists during a season.
Early on during his league-leading 65th double-double, Love became the first player in league history to score 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 100 made 3-pointers in a season — his 190 successful long-range attempts set a franchise record to go along with the organization’s single-season scoring mark.
Yet for all his successes, Love has yet to play for a winner. Confounding the issue, he’s expressed disgruntlement at the front office for not giving him a max contract. He can opt out of his current deal after next season, which means the Timberwolves must either convince him to stay or deal him in order to glean some return value.
He didn’t do much to question the majority thinking his departure is imminent.
"Sure," Love said when asked if he has faith in the franchise’s future. "Of course."
— An Adelman favorite went off. Veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin scored a season-high 36 points, including 27 in the second half and the two overtimes, unwilling to let Adelman’s career come to a close in defeat.
Only when Martin fouled out with 12 seconds to go could Utah secure victory.
"You find personal motivations this time of year when you’re out of the playoffs, besides being a professional, which everyone in this room is," Martin said. "Tonight was one of them nights. It was definitely for him."
Martin ranked as the Timberwolves’ top external free-agent addition this past offseason, landing a four-year, $27.8 million sign-and-trade deal. That made him the first player to join Adelman with three different franchises, the other two being Sacramento and Houston.
Adelman never gave him any clear indication he’s done. Then again, Martin pointed out, the attention-deflecting hoops sage probably wouldn’t have, anyway. Players, coaches and team personnel that have interacted with Adelman during his 23-year career maintain he’s never been one to step anywhere near the spotlight. He didn’t Wednesday, either — no video tribute, no center-court embrace with his wife like he had last season after his 1,000th victory.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an emotional night.
"If it is (over), it wraps up an amazing career, and it is sad," said assistant David Adelman, Rick’s son. "Because you’re used to coming back every year knowing a new season’s coming. But we’ll see what he decides. It’s up to him. It’s up to my mom."
After speaking to Twin Cities media for what’s probably the final time, Adelman trudged back toward the coaches’ conference room adjacent to the Timberwolves lockers. Another journalist gave him a quick "thanks, Rick" when the coach had reached his destination.
The 67-year-old corner-offense innovator might not have heard. Or he might have just wanted to be left alone. But all he did was shut the door — not harshly, but firmly.
Half-an-hour later, it was open again. The room was empty, with game notes, a TV remote and a couple empty Solo cups sitting on the table. Silence.
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