I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it.
I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.
The Wolves are going to have a real coach next season – like a super real coach with plays and experience and lineup stability and credibility and a relationship with our best player that won’t require monthly trips to a marriage counselor. The Wolves are going to sign Rick Adelman some time in the next week or so, and it’s going to be for a lot of money.
I don’t really care about the money. 1) I don’t think you can overpay for a great coach and 2) it’s not my money. Whether the rumors of four years and $20 million are correct or the even better commitment of five years and upwards of $25 million is what happens, the Wolves will be paying for someone that you don’t really need to ever second guess.
Before I get deeper into this, I don’t want to apologize to David Kahn because I stand by my harsh criticism of his work over the past two-plus years. I think he’s been arrogant and misguided in the way he’s gutted the team to bring in a rebuilding process. However, maybe the biggest thing you CAN do as a GM is admit when you’ve failed (even if you throw everybody else under the bus when you “admit it”) and not hang on to your recent decisions.
David Kahn could have very easily pretended that Kurt Rambis and Ricky Rubio would work together. He could have very easily committed to the Rubio-Flynn backcourt and sold it as somehow buoying Kurt Rambis’ presence with the team. But the square peg can only be slammed against the round hole so many times before you fail kindergarten. Kahn realized this and punted on the experiment of his first two years in town.
There are thoughts that Adelman getting signed has more to do with Glenn Taylor than Kahn and maybe that’s true. Maybe the extended agreement with Adelman shows he’ll be around here a lot longer than David will be. Regardless of the particulars and understandings that brought Adelman to town, Kahn didn’t screw it up. And sadly at this point, that counts for something and should be applauded.
So why did Rick come to Minnesota?
The prevailing notion throughout this entire coaching search process has been Adelman wanting to coach a contender. Including the Jazz and Bobcats who changed coaches in the middle of last season only to hire their full-time coach going forward at that time, there have been nine head coaching changes recently. The other seven teams are the Wolves, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Raptors, Pacers and Lakers. Of the coaching positions that were available, only the Lakers were contenders looking for a new head coach.
For whatever reason, the Lakers and Adelman never got serious with each other and Rick seemed intent on waiting out a year and seeing if any other title contending teams would become available to him and allow him to go after that elusive cap to a Hall of Fame career. So why come to arguably the worst team in the NBA from last season? Are he and Kevin Love so close that he felt like this was the way to potentially end his career? Is the money simply too good to pass up? Does he love Nikola Pekovic’s quirks as much as we do? Is Rubio’s hair that hypnotizing?
Maybe the answer is yes to all of these questions, but maybe the answer lies a little closer to what transpired 1900 miles away in the late 1990s.
When the Sacramento Kings decided to overhaul their franchise in 1998, Rick Adelman was at the center of the rebuilding. Sure, they signed Vlade Divac to a pretty big contract and traded their franchise guy in Mitch Richmond for Bullets’ malcontent Chris Webber, and they brought in rookies Jason Williams and Peja Stojakovic to jumpstart the process. But the acquisition of Rick Adelman installing a system with assistant coach Pete Carrill to turn a lot of great playmakers into a five-way symbiotic relationship between passing and movement away from the ball is what quickly turned them into a tour de force.
While it’s not exactly like looking into a mirror when you put this Wolves squad and the 1999 Kings roster side-by-side, there are a lot of similarities between the two. With the obvious Vlade-Darko jokes aside, the impact Rubio will make on this team is pretty identical to what Jason Williams put out there for the Kings. It wasn’t so much production as it was an attitude of having fun. J-Will unleashed an unbridled enthusiasm that is missing with most teams, let alone a team that just brought in veteran cogs. The difference between the two is Rubio is actually a pretty decent defender and he seems to know his shooting limitations.
Looking at the wings of that 1999 Kings team and the wings the Wolves will have out there next season, there are even more similarities. The Wolves’ combination of Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Martell Webster reminds me an awful lot of the Tariq Abdul-Wahad-Corliss Williamson-Vernon Maxwell-Peja Stojakovic quartet the Kings had. Williams is like a freak hybrid version of Corliss Williamson in that he doesn’t really have a position, will probably be stronger than most of his matchups and can hurt you from various spots on the floor. The big difference is Williams could be a good 3-point shooter as well. Wes Johnson fits into the mold of Tariq in that he is extremely athletic, should be a constant alley-oop target from the pass-happy point guard and can be a pretty good defender. Webster is a younger, better version of the Vernon Maxwell the Kings enjoyed but should provide the same type of experience and perhaps more leadership than what the Kings received from the two-time champion. And then there’s Wayne Ellington stretching the floor the same way that Peja provided (remember this is pre-awesome Peja, not eventual Peja).
That brings us to Kevin Love in the role as Chris Webber. Chris Webber was a better overall passer (not outlet passing though), a better scorer and a better defender in all ways than Kevin Love. He was a Top 10 player in the league for several years. But the way he operated in the high post and the way Kevin Love will be able to operate in the same system could be very close in terms of effectiveness. Love’s refined jumper (and extended range) actually gives the Wolves better spacing than what Webber was able to give the Kings. For the Princeton offense to roll it needs spacing and sharp cuts at opportune times. The more spacing for Minnesota, the better off their offensive execution in the halfcourt will be. It doesn’t mean that Kevin Love will be as good as Chris Webber by any means; it just means that he’s capable of filling the role in Adelman’s game plan.
Aside from the money and the Kevin Love relationship, I really think Rick decided holding out for a contender could be a fruitless waiting game. And maybe he saw similar aspects linking the emergence of the Sacramento Kings and what the Wolves have to offer. It doesn’t mean the Wolves will end up being the 2002 Sacramento Kings. It doesn’t mean they’ll be title contenders within three seasons. But if you look at the respective situations of the two franchises at the time he joined them, they’re definitely in similar looking boats. Maybe instead of a swan song with a hopeful contender, it seemed more in tune for him to build up another lowly team one more time?
So what can Rick bring to the Wolves?
For one, Adelman is going to bring some stability. Whether it’s a young backcourt duo like Abdul-Wahad and J-Will or it’s a rookie wing player like Hedo Turkoglu in a playoff series against the Lakers, Rick isn’t afraid to play a guy just because he’s young. And in doing so, he’s very willing to stick with that player and certain lineups for extended stretches when they’re working.
Ian Levy over at Hickory High ran the numbers of how coaches manage different five-man units and adjust their rotations accordingly. Of the most stable and effective coaches with rotations, Rick Adelman ranked 14th over the last four seasons. Kurt Rambis ranked 42nd. Adelman isn’t just a coach who will play guys because of an alleged agenda or take out personal beef on his players. If you can help the team win and you’re able to positively affect the unit you run with, he’ll play you.
Rick’s coaching should also greatly improve not only the offense but also the defense. While he won’t have his top defensive assistant Elston Turner right away (hard to believe he won’t try to get him back considering he only signed with the Suns this year because he thought Adelman was taking a season off), he’s still capable of simplifying things and getting the defensive rotations in order. When he took over the Kings in 1999, the team improved from 22nd in the NBA to 18th in defensive rating. The next season they jumped to 10th in the league.
Offensively, the Kings improved from 26th in the league to 13th in their first season full of new parts and a new system. Within two years, they were a top 10 offensive team in the NBA. Granted, they ended up with a lot of offensive continuity and more talent than what the current roster offers, but that doesn’t mean the Wolves can’t acquire the correct pieces Rick needs to succeed.
Overall, Rick Adelman doesn’t solve current issues with the roster by any means. But he offers hope and a plan. I was originally excited for next season because Ricky Rubio was going to make the basketball fun, even if it wasn’t great basketball. But being from Sacramento and watching that Kings team develop first-hand over a decade ago, I can tell you that if anybody was going to turn this ship in the right direction in the next couple years, it’s Rick Adelman.
His system is proven. His résumé is impressive. And he’ll run his team his way.
I’m so excited.