Maybe it was the Timberwolves intriguing roster.
Maybe it was the opportunity to experience a real winter, after working several seasons in balmy Houston. No? You’re probably right.
Maybe it was the $5 million/year contract that David Kahn waved in front of him, potentially season ending lockout be damned.
It’s hard to tell for sure, but, regardless of the reasons, the arrival of Rick Adelman is more than just a coaching change for the Timberwolves. If Adelman’s previous teams are any indication, it’s going to be a complete change of style and culture.
It’s been well-documented, but I’ll reiterate: Last season, the Wolves were first in the league in pace (as measured by possessions per game) and committed the most turnovers. They were also 27th worst in the NBA on defense (as measured by points allowed per 100 possessions). And over the summer, Minnesota added Ricky Rubio, a point guard notorious for his flashy style of play in the open court. The Timberwolves don’t appear likely to slow their already frantic pace any time soon.
But this pace is exactly what David Kahn replaced previous head coach Kurt Rambis with Rick Adelman for: controlled chaos. Under Rambis, the Wolves ran a clumsy version of Phil Jackson’s Triangle in Los Angeles, a byproduct of Rambis being Jackson’s assistant for several years. Kahn wants the Timberwolves to play entertaining, fast-paced basketball.
More importantly, Kahn wants to see the Wolves win basketball games, because after two consecutive seasons yielded a combined 32 wins, this franchise has seen its fair share of futility.
It certainly looks like he has chosen the correct man for this job. Adelman boasts an impressive record as a head coach. But more importantly, he has dealt with teams similar to the current Minnesota squad. Adelman coached the Sacramento Kings from 1998-2006, a time in which the Kings were a wonderful, fast-paced offensive machine. They had a flashy, entertaining point guard who liked to run (Jason Williams). They had several post players who could both stretch the floor, and run an effective fast break (most notably Chris Webber). And unfortunately for Adelman, they also had the misfortune of playing in the Western Conference during a time when Duncan was in his prime in San Antonio, and Kobe and Shaq were winning dysfunctional championships together in Los Angeles.
The Timberwolves, like those Kings, are built to run. We covered Rubio earlier. Kevin Love, coming off a break-out All-Star season, has mastered the art of rebounding and making a nice outlet pass as well as anyone since Wes Unseld. Rookie Derrick Williams is projected by many as the best player in the 2011 draft, an athletic combo forward who can both dunk with ferocity and shoot with range, averaging 56% from beyond the arc in college.
But Kahn didn’t hire Adelman exclusively for his prowess as an offensive coach. In 2002, the Kings, under Adelman’s tutelage, were top in the NBA in pace, and 6th in defense. A year later? Fastest again, and second in defense. Adelman’s teams know how to run on offense, but also how to get back on defense. For a young team like the Timberwolves, this kind of expertise will prove invaluable.
Let’s be clear: the Timberwolves will have problems, beginning with big men. Kahn has been a proponent of Darko Milicic for two years, signing the big man to a four year contract last summer. But Darko’s style seems unlikely to mesh well with Adelman’s.
There is also a glut of talent at the forward positions. Love, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Randolph, and arguably Williams and Michael Beasley should all be playing at the 4. Beasley played relatively inefficient basketball (19 ppg on 17 shot attempts) in part because he was asked to play the three, and in part because of his continuing love affair with long, two point jumpers. Wes Johnson underperformed last year, largely because the Wolves played him out of position at the 2 when he spent his college years playing a Shawn Marion-like combo role at the 3 and 4. Distributing minutes at each of these positions will not be an easy task, even for a coach like Adelman.
But for fans of the Timberwolves, a glut of talent at ANY position feels like a nice improvement. The roster is full of youth and athleticism, and it feels both unfamiliar and wonderful to be in competent coaching hands.
For the first time since Kevin Garnett was traded in 2007, this franchise, though far from ready for a real playoff run, seems to be back on the right track.