Archives For Coaching changes


People who followed the Minnesota Timberwolves, whether they were fans or media members, so closely last season have widely held the belief that it was the lack of late game execution that ultimately was the undoing of this team in their quest for a return to the playoffs. The 0-11 start in games decided by four points or less was a frustrating run, and it once the Wolves ended that streak with a clutch win on the road against the Golden State Warriors, hopes of the floodgates opening and leading to more wins was the preferred result of getting over that hump.

To a degree, it did. After the 0-11 start in games decided by four points or less, the Wolves won six of eight in these close games. But the damage had been done. Missing out on those precious wins early seemed to help lead to players checking out and the effort not being consistent enough in the final two months of the season when the Wolves didn’t have any margin for error. There are plenty of reasons as to why the Wolves were so bad (shooting, player execution, coaching, the bench being so bad it taxed the starters, defense, etc.) and most fans want to jump on Rick Adelman as the primary reason.

So will a coaching change help this Wolves team get over the hump in a close game environment that has plagued them for a decade? In a recent Q&A by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Flip Saunders mentioned he doesn’t care so much about who starts games as he does which players finish games. He even said that prior to his time coaching the Washington Wizards, his teams had a higher winning percentage than any other team when games were decided by three points or less:  Continue Reading…

Penberthy The Minnesota Timberwolves have added to their development and scouting departments with the announcement of three hires on Thursday. The Wolves announced the hiring of former Lakers’ shooter Mike Penberthy as the team’s shooting coach, along with Jason Harvey as a scout and the promotion of Derek Pierce to advance scout. From the team:  Continue Reading…


The Minnesota Timberwolves announced Tuesday morning that Ryan Saunders has been hired on as an assistant coach. If the name sounds familiar to Wolves fans, it should. Ryan played four years at the University of Minnesota and was an assistant coach there under Tubby Smith as well. He was an assistant coach and scout with the Washington Wizards the last five seasons. He’s also minority owner/president of basketball operations/head coach Flip Saunders’ son.

Here is part of the statement from the Wolves on the matter, which includes that David Adelman will remain on the coaching staff:

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced Ryan Saunders as an assistant coach, joining David Adelman, Sidney Lowe and Sam Mitchell on head coach Flip Saunders’ staff. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not announced.

“Ryan brings a unique skill set of player development, analytics and team preparation to our team,” said general manager Milt Newton. “He played a key role in the development of Washington’s rising stars John Wall and Bradley Beal, and he served as the primary scout last season as the Wizards won their first playoff series since 2004-05. His ability to develop young talent, as well as his statistical analysis and game preparation techniques, will be an extremely valuable addition to our team.”

On the surface, this hiring looks and feels very nepotistic. This organization is known for going with the familiar rather than the outside help on most occasions, and bringing in the coach’s son to be on the coaching staff certainly goes with the familiar. However, this is not your typical nepotistic hiring in the NBA.  Continue Reading…

Adelman Photo

Monday morning, Rick Adelman took the stage outside the Wolves’ training facility and announced what many have long suspected: the 67-year-old is officially retiring from coaching in the NBA. He will remain with the organization as an advisor, but his days dealing with the worry of game-planning, roster construction, and the hassles of trekking across North America are over.

“It’s a real grind. You get some time off in the summer, but it’s pretty much on your mind all the time,” Adelman said. “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.” Continue Reading…

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).

The biggest difference between these two reclamation projects is the frontcourt. Darko Milicic is far from anything the Kings had in production and leadership from Vlade Divac and Kevin Love is a poor man’s version of Chris Webber. The key to the success of this frontcourt is how they operate the high post. Darko with his back to the basket seems like a bad possession waiting to happen but putting him in the high post with a system that makes him more of a high-low passer or a guy just needing to hit the backdoor cut helps him stay within his abilities. It doesn’t mean he’s even close to Vlade in terms of usefulness, but if you keep him from playing outside of himself on offense, you make him a lot more effective.

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.

It’s official. From the Wolves:

The Minnesota Timberwolves oday announced the team has reached an agreemnt in principle on a contract with Rick Adelman to become the 10th head coach in franchise history. Adelman ranks eighth all-time in NBA coaching wins with a 945-616 (.605 winning percentage) career record in 20 seasons as a head coach.

It’s not yet known if Adelman got the five years and $25 million he was after. Let’s not mince words. This is a major coup for Kahn and Taylor. Even before the months-long Kurt Rambis fiasco, I was of the belief that Adelman was the best case scenario for the Wolves. Hiring Adelman gives them legitimacy when the desperately need it; it gives them a coaching mind creative and experienced enough to blend the Wolves’ strange mix of talent; and it gives Kevin Love at least the beginnings of a reason to hang around. Not too bad. Let’s have a party.

Adelman updated

Benjamin Polk —  September 12, 2011 — 4 Comments

Update: This is still very much in rumor phase, but folks are saying here and here (and maybe more importantly, Kevin Love is tweeting) that Adelman has agreed to a deal. More later.

This from Jerry Zgoda at the Star-Tribune:

The Timberwolves have started negotiations to sign Rick Adelman as their next coach, league sources with knowledge of the search said Sunday.David Kahn, Timberwolves president of basketball operations, might know as soon as Monday whether he can land the man who has a .605 winning percentage in 20 seasons as a NBA head coach. Adelman, 65, is believed to be seeking a five-year contract worth at least $25 million.

That’s a lot of cheddar to give somebody if you don’t even know whether there’ll be a season. But considering the Wolves’ low payroll and the probability that every team’s basketball-related expenditures will be lower in the coming years, I say it’s a good investment. On the other hand, I have less than $100 in my checking account at the moment so I guess it’s easy for me to say.

You’ve already heard the chatter that Don Nelson is meeting with David Kahn to discuss the Wolves’ coaching vacancy. We’re not sure if this is actually happening but we do know that, on Nellie’s end at least, his interest is no rumor. Here’s what he told Jerry Zgoda of the Strib:

“Really, throughout my career, what I’ve done is taken teams with bad records and with every situation I’ve made them better,” he said. “I like to be around young players. I’ve had great success with bad teams, getting them on the right track, getting them to max out. I have a great history there…There’s talent there. Maybe they just need to change the tempo and play a little faster there.”

For a moment, let’s put aside questions of whether or not the Wolves are built to play as fast as Kahn and Nellie evidently want them to. (Beckley Mason casts a seriously skeptical eye on the whole notion right here.) That isn’t even what really concerns me.

Continue Reading…

Rambis, the bullets

Benjamin Polk —  July 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Photo by Will Keightley

These days, Wolves fans have to instinctively wince a little whenever we find our crew in the national media.  But thanks to the Kurt Rambis odyssey (“fiasco” or “debacle” could also suffice), here we are. So here are some more tidbits:

Thing is, the Wolves were already the fastest team in the league last year, averaging 96.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They were also one of the very worst in the league at converting fastbreak opportunities and turning the ball over…If Kahn is in fact trying to model his roster after these rare speed demons [early decade Kings, ’08 Lakers, D’Antoni-era Suns], he’s doing a miserable job. Those teams were built with play-making veterans, unselfish offensive philosophies, deft passing from all five positions and consistent 3-point shooters. These elements of efficiency and execution were necessary to win by imposing an uptempo style of play night in and night out against top competition. Kahn’s teams have not even approached a single element of what made these offenses so great.

True enough. I would also add: the Wolves played at such a high pace largely because they so deeply loved turning the ball over. Lots of quick turnovers means lots of possessions that end before they begin, which means more possessions per game.

  • This is hilarious: rumor is that Don Nelson is interested in the Wolves’ coaching vacancy (thanks to College Wolf for the tip).  In some ways, this makes a little sense. David Kahn wants that “uptempo DNA” and holy smokes, Nellie certainly has that. What’s more, with his knack for dissolving positional distinctions in order to create matchup anarchy, he would seem somehow suited for the Wolves’ oddly sized front court mishmash. On the other hand, its hard to see how the Wolves would address their defensive problems by hiring a coach who almost literally stopped coaching defense in Golden State. (Also, does Nellie know that Anthony Randolph plays for the Wolves?).
  • The Wolves’ rumored plan to hire Bernie Bickerstaff to mentor his son J.B., would seem a bit more complicated now that J.B. has agreed to join Kevin McHale in Houston. Seriously, what are they going to do?

Harper on Rambis

Benjamin Polk —  July 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

Over at Truehoop, Zach has the definitive account of the Rambis era:

Rambis was not a very good coach over the past two years. His teams were inefficient offensively and abhorrent defensively. Last season, it seemed that he was one of the worst fourth-quarter coaches in the entire league because of how the Wolves seemed to kick away leads. (Yes, they actually had fourth-quarter leads.)…However, the way he’s been treated by Kahn and the Wolves organization in the past two months might be the most embarrassing part of this entire era. Rambis should have been fired right after the regular season ended. There was no real reason to drag this out. It’s just another case of the Wolves mismanaging a personnel decision within the organization. The Wolves already should have a head coach and be ready to make roster decisions once the lockout ends. Instead, they’ve once again been making moves without a head coach in place for the upcoming season.

All true. Here’s what I would add, though. Zach points out that, partially because Rambis was hired after the roster was set in 2009, this team was never temperamentally or compositionally cut out to run the triangle.  But its widely known that Tex Winter’s offense requires an exceptionally steep learning curve for young players. My impression was that, by hiring Rambis and giving him a four year deal, the Wolves were taking the long view, acknowledging that this would take some time and patience, that no team as young as the Wolves could ever have learned the system in two short years. Given that Kahn and Taylor appear to have run out of patience after just two seasons, one wonders why Rambis was hired and given such a vote of confidence to begin with.