Six months ago, the Timberwolves began a season that finally promised to be steady, stable and probably even playoff-bound.
They conclude it Wednesday in San Antonio yet again with many more turbulent summertime questions looming, including one from which all the others cascade for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2004.
Will Rick Adelman return as coach?
“That’s the question, that is the question,” Wolves veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “What is, how you say, the prognosis? I don’t know what to think about it.”
There are many others ranging from president of basketball operations David Kahn’s contract option for next season and two-time All-Star Kevin Love’s commitment to a team that guaranteed him nearly $62 million, not to mention starting center Nikola Pekovic’s looming restricted free agency come July.
But those questions and more could hinge on whether Adelman returns from this injury-ravaged season to fulfill the third year of a four-year contract that pays him $5 million a season.
Adelman missed 11 games in January to be alongside his wife, Mary Kay, while doctors sought a cause for her seizures. The coach said he twice during that time contemplated quitting coaching. More appointments with doctors are scheduled after the season ends.
Adelman talks about next season in conversation, discussing, among other issues, how he’d like to see Love and Derrick Williams play together now that Williams’ game has grown while Love missed the past three months with that broken shooting hand.
He deflects questions about whether he will return, saying he has asked players to finish this season strong and doesn’t want to distract them from their task. But he acknowledges he has a decision to make concerning his wife’s health and perhaps even the precious nature of time as his 67th birthday approaches in June.
“When that time comes for anybody, you’re going to know,” he said. “But right now is not really the time to talk about that.”
His decision will influence player-personnel matters: Kirilenko’s decision to exercise a $10 million player option for next season. Pekovic’s decision whether he strikes a quick deal this summer to return to Minnesota — “100 percent” his preference — or test the free-agent market. Reserve forward Chase Budinger’s decision to sign with any NBA team in July.
“That’s kind of critical to a lot of decisions that have to be made here,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said about Adelman’s future. “We stay in touch, but I don’t know if he knows the answer to that question. He hasn’t given me any indication he’s going to leave. He talks about next year. But to tell you the truth, I haven’t pressed him.
“It is the major decision that we have in front of us right now.”
But it’s not the only one.
GM position also uncertain
Taylor must decide whether to bring back Kahn next season by picking up the final option year on his contract. Kahn drafted, wooed and ultimately brought star point guard Ricky Rubio to Minnesota, and he patiently pursued Adelman as coach for months. He also has swung and missed on a lengthy list of draft picks, including lottery choices Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson, as well as failed experiments with gifted underachievers Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph.
By this time last year, Taylor already had long before decided to pick up Kahn’s fourth-year option. With two games now remaining, he said he remains undecided on Kahn’s future and has no timetable once the season ends to do so.
Taylor hoped to see the Wolves finally healthy these final weeks so he could more accurately judge Kahn’s work, but Love’s arthroscopic knee surgery last week ended that chance.
“We never really got a team on the floor,” Taylor said. “You would have liked to have seen that. That’s a part of it [in making his decision on Kahn].”
Kahn said he believes he’ll return for a June draft in which the team has two first-round picks and for next season.
“Glen and I talk all the time,” Kahn said. “My sense is that we’ll be working on this for a while.”
Kahn said he believes the Wolves were built to reach the playoffs this season – possibly last season as well – if not for what he calls a “tidal wave” of injuries that started with Rubio’s season-ending torn ACL a year ago, continued with Love’s twice-broken hand this season and has included everyone from Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard (remember him?) to Kirilenko and Pekovic.
He keeps a boxscore from that March 9, 2012, game when Rubio was injured – the Wolves were 21-19 then – on his office desk as a reminder.
“It’s easy to say,” he said of his belief that this is a playoff team. “People can say, ‘Prove it.’ That’s a fair comment. Everyone we come in contact with [in the NBA] feels we’re snake-bit.”
Is the love gone?
Love played just 18 games this season, a year that started when he first broke his hand in October — doing knuckle pushups in a personal workout, he said — and ended with January’s hand surgery to fix it after he broke it a second time during a game at Denver.
In between, he riled up Timberwolves Nation with a Yahoo!Sports interview in which he again was bitter about management’s decision not to offer him a five-year “designated player” contract and reminded he has a “very, very good memory” when it comes time to opt out of his contract in 2015.
That interview and the way Love’s season ended has created suspicions among some fans that Love already has decided he doesn’t want to be here, a claim he has repeatedly denied.
Williams believes him.
“I can vouch for my teammates, the people we’re around every single day, and I think he wants to be here,” Williams said. “And we want him here. He’s one of the best players in the game. Who wouldn’t want one of the best power forwards in the game and in the world to be on their team?”
Pekovic said there is no doubt that he wants to return to Minnesota next season and far beyond. His coach is certain of that, too, although another team could complicate the process with a huge offer.
“I tell you now — whoever’s listening — I want him back,” Adelman said. “That’s what I’d like. We have to have some consistency. We cleaned a lot of people out last year, but we now have a core group who can be pretty good if we just stay healthy, and he’s certainly one of those guys.”
Kirilenko is part of that core group. It’s his choice this summer whether to accept a $10 million salary from the Wolves next season or become a free agent able to negotiate perhaps a three- or four-year contract — probably the last big one of his career — with another team, including the Wolves.
He said his family’s wishes will weigh heavily, and his children like Minnesota.
So, too, of course, will Adelman’s decision for a franchise that will have to start all over again if he chooses to retire.
“This is the key moment for me,” Kirilenko said. “He is the reason I’m here in the first place. We’ll see. Let’s wait for the summertime.”