Why would Rick Adelman — a man who has won 945 games in 20 seasons as an NBA head coach — tackle at age 65 a job like coaching the Timberwolves?
Why would a guy who has suffered through only two losing seasons out of those 20 come to cold, snowy Minnesota to coach a team that won just 17 times last season.
Maybe even he doesn’t know.
It has something to do with the collection of young talent — seven players selected among the draft’s first six picks — the franchise has accumulated.
It also has something to do with Adelman’s teaching experience in Houston, where he lost stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady in his four years there and coached a team of mostly youngsters to winning seasons each of the last two seasons.
“I knew they had a lot of young players,” he said. “When we played them last year, I was always surprised. I thought they should have won more games. But you’re not here, you’re not coaching them. You don’t know why things happen.”
After just one week on the floor with them, he has a better idea about a team both gifted — Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Wes Johnson and rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams — and so darn young except for veteran guards Luke Ridnour and newly signed J.J. Barea.
He watched film of last season’s games and called their defense “horrendous.”
Then he coached a team that led the league in turnovers last season and saw a team that still lacks ball-handlers and playmakers on the wing that he may start two point guards — Rubio and Barea — in the backcourt.
Irritated after one practice before Barea’s arrival, he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group as good at turning the ball over as this one.”
That said, he’s still intrigued by a team that has the league’s top rebounder in Love, an enormously talented but enigmatic scorer in Beasley and what Adelman calls a “natural point guard” in Rubio.
“These guys are really talented,” Adelman said. “In some ways, things have been easy for them. They have to learn they not only have to do things for themselves, they have to make their teammates better. They have to find a way to do that.”
COACHING STAFF: Head Coach — Rick Adelman, 21st season overall (945-616), 1st with Wolves. Assistants — Terry Porter, Jack Sikma, T.R. Dunn, Bill Bayno.
LAST SEASON, REMEMBERED: 17-65 (fifth in Northwest).
THIS SEASON: 27-39 (4th in Northwest).
POSSIBLE CHANGES, PREDICTED: There has been too many changes to predict many more, other than the pressure is on president of basketball operations David Kahn for a breakthrough season now that he’s in the third year of three-year contract.
NBA Team Report – Minnesota Timberwolves – NOTES, QUOTES
–The Wolves searched in free agency for a classic 6-6 shooting guard who can handle the ball, shoot and defend. They ended up signing 5-11 point guard J.J. Barea from the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks instead.
The Wolves gave him a four-year, $19 million contract for his spirit, his skills and the kind of experience and leadership he might bring.
“Nobody came even close,” Barea said. “Minnesota always wanted me the most, both money-wise and talking-wise. I thought we had a lot of talent here. We can do some good changes. The coaching staff, the system they play also came in (to play). I like the way he coached in Houston, the way he coached in Sacramento. I also think that made a big part of it fit.”
–Michael Beasley already has declared teammate Kevin Love “sexy.”
Don’t know about that, but Love certainly reported to training camp slimmed down and in the best shape of his young career, just in time for him to negotiate a contract extension in the coming weeks.
He lost 20 to 25 pounds over the long, lockout summer working with his trainer and even making his debut in professional beach volleyball.
Now at 240 pounds, he proclaims himself more nimble, more prepared for a grueling, shortened 66-game season and stronger than ever, too.
“It wasn’t something where I said I wanted to lose ‘X’ amount of pounds or ‘X’ amount of body fat,” Love said. “It just kind of came off and I feel great. I can’t really put my thumb on it. It just kinda happened.”
MAIN REASON TIMBERWOLVES CAN WIN: How can a 17-victory team add the draft’s No. 2 overall pick, a real point guard, a proven coach and an NBA champion and not be significantly better?
MAIN REASON TIMBERWOLVES CAN LOSE: For all that acquired lottery talent, these Wolves still are awfully young and careless with the basketball, as they proved last season by leading the league in turnovers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “And we can’t forget that first-round pick from Minnesota that you know is going to be a lottery pick.” — Former Timberwolves coach and current ESPN analyst Kurt Rambis, when discussing the Clippers-Hornets trade that sent Chris Paul to L.A. and the Wolves’ first-round pick next summer, among other pieces, to New Orleans.
NBA Team Report – Minnesota Timberwolves – ROSTER REPORT
The Wolves actively pursued shooting guards (Jamal Crawford and Arron Afflalo, among others) and an athletic starting center (DeAndre Jordan) in free agency and ultimately signed 5-10 combo guard J.J. Barea from the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
ARRIVALS: G Ricky Rubio (2009 draft pick signed May 31), F Derrick Williams (No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft from Arizona), G J.J. Barea (free agent from Mavericks), G Malcolm Lee (second-round draft pick from UCLA), CBrad Miller (acquired from Houston in draft-night trade).
DEPARTURES: G Jonny Flynn (traded to Rockets on draft night), F Lazar Hayward (traded to Oklahoma City on Dec. 13), G Sebastian Telfair (free agent signed by Suns).
–G Ricky Rubio is the pure point guard the Wolves have waited for two years to arrive. A gifted passer, questions remain about his strength, his shooting and his defense.
– G J.J. Barea brings championship experience from Dallas and gives the Wolves the ball-handler and playmaker that Rick Adelman knows he really needs, even if Barea is a 5-10 combo guard and not the classic shooting guard the Wolves lack.
–C Nikola Pekovic is a second-year player from Europe who struggled with foul trouble often last season because of his physical nature. Let’s see if he comes to an understanding with officials, and vice versa, here in Year 2.
–F Michael Beasley was often spectacular last November and December, when he was healthy. A recurring ankle injury that he first sprained in early January slowed him the rest of the season. Such a gifted scorer, but will he play enough defense to appease the new coach?
–F Kevin Love is coming off an All-Star season in which he recorded the first 30-point, 30-rebound game in the NBA since 1982. He’s also dropped 25 pounds and vows to be more agile and better conditioned entering a season in which the Wolves can sign him to a very big contract extension.
ANALYZING KEY RESERVES:
–G Wes Johnson worked on his ball-handling all summer, but questions remain if he really has those skills to play shooting guard. Rick Adelman’s offense, though, should get him more involved than last season, when he too often was a one-dimensional jump shooter during his rookie season.
–F Anthony Randolph finished last season strong as a starter for injured Kevin Love. Long and athletic, he’s the kind of versatile player who can play all three frontcourt positions, and he probably will.
–F Derrick Williams on draft night was projected as the kind of gifted, explosive small forward who could challenge Michael Beasley for a starting job. Training camp showed he initially will have difficulty defending NBA small forwards out on the floor, so Williams will start the season focused on learning the power-forward spot behind starter Kevin Love.
–C Darko Milicic has all the size and skills you’d want in a 7-footer, but eight seasons into his NBA career will he — and anyone else — ever get out everything that’s in there?
–G Luke Ridnour is an underrated veteran who might be the odd point guard out after the team signed J.J. Barea in free agency. Rick Adelman said he is committed to getting all three guards enough time and will play two of them together as needed.
–G Malcolm Lee is a second-round pick to whom the Wolves gave a rare guaranteed three-year contract because they believe he’s just what they need — a 6-5 guard who can play — and most importantly defend — both guard spots with a UCLA pedigree in a league where Bruins guards have thrived in recent years.
–F Anthony Tolliver is the kind of role player coaches love — dependable defense, 3-point shooting range — but just exactly where and when will he play?
–G Martell Webster underwent microdiscetomy surgery in September for the second time in nine months and is expected to be out until early-to-mid January. He looked like he could help this team when he was healthy last season, which wasn’t often.
–C Brad Miller is recovering from May microfracture knee surgery and is targeting a return by mid-to-late January.