Stepping away from a 23-year NBA career that included 1,042 games won, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman formally announced his retirement Monday morning, setting in motion the search for the franchise’s 11th coach.
“You know, it’s time,” he said in ending three seasons on the job, none of which ended up taking the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. “I wish I could have done more, but I enjoyed my time.”
Team President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders vowed an “extensive” and secretive search in which he would prefer a candidate with substantial head coaching experience, preferably in the NBA. He said he wants to find a successor who would bring a similar kind of offensive identity Adelman lent the franchise and used such qualities as “demanding,” “adaptable” and “flexibility” he will seeks in a coach.
He also once again refused to rule himself out as a possibility, even as he pledged to use his vast network of coaches to search “in a lot of places” for that new coach.
If he is looking for substantial NBA experience, Saunders has coached 1,164 games and won 638 of them, by the way.
When asked if he can fill both management and coach’s jobs, Saunders said, “I’m not going to answer that.”
He then echoed Adelman’s answer when Adelman was asked if he will ever coach again.
“Rick said that you never know,” Saunders said. “Ideally, right now we’re going to do a search.”
Wolves owner Glen Taylor has said he doesn’t want Saunders to do both jobs because they are mutually exclusive: A coach is concerned only about today, a general manager must think about the future. The Clippers’ Doc Rivers is the closest the NBA gets to a guy who does both jobs.
“It’d take a special person,” Taylor said.
Saunders said he wants to find a coach experienced in developing an entire season’s practice plan and capable of striking the proper balance between offense and defense for a team he says needs to add toughness — mentally and physically — on both ends of the floor.
“Someone who has been the CEO of the team,” said Saunders, who has no timetable for a search he said conceivably could last beyond the June draft.
He acknowledged it will be a “delicate” proposition trying to sell top candidates on a franchise that doesn’t know if it can keep star Kevin Love signed beyond summer 2015.
“You can’t hide from it,” he said.
Saunders said he will ask Love and teammates such as Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic what qualities they want in their next coach, but he said Love will not be asked to help choose his next coach.
“Hey, listen, I had KG for 10 years,” Saunders said, referring to superstar Kevin Garnett. “If I took the players KG wanted all the time, the roster would have looked a lot different. You talk characteristics, but you don’t put a player — any player, no matter who he is — in that light where he’s making that decision. It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to the person you bring in. I wouldn’t do that.”
Saunders hopes to sell the correct candidate on his vision of the future for a franchise that is moving into a new training facility developed jointly with the Mayo Clinic. The Wolves also eventually will play in a Target Center remodeled with $100 million in refurbishments.
Adelman said Love’s uncertain future contributed to his decision to opt out of the final season of his contract, but perhaps not in the way you might first think.
He said he didn’t want the franchise faced with Adelman’s four-year contract expiring after next season just about the same time Love can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.
“If anything, I felt if I coached another year and then his future comes up and my future is gone, that makes it even harder,” Adelman said. “It’s best for the organization to have somebody else coaching the team. Give them a year to see what they can do and hear that voice. I think that’s a much more positive situation for the organization. I feel strongly about that. I know Flip will find the right guy to work out one way or the other.”
When asked if he will offer recommendations for his successor, Adelman said, “No, that’s not my job.”
Adelman’s contract, signed in September 2011, allows for him to stay on the team’s payroll next season as a consultant, an as-yet-undefined role that Saunders said will include asking for his opinions on the team’s and the league’s players.
“Anyone that has the knowledge Rick has, we’re going to utilize him, no question, as much as we can,” Saunders said, “and still give him the freedom he wants.”
The contracts for Adelman assistant coaches Terry Porter, Jack Sikma and T.R. Dunn all expire after this season, and each has been given permission to talk with other teams about jobs, Saunders said. Adelman’s sons R.J. and David have a season remaining on their contracts and will remain with the team next season.
Adelman said he talked with Taylor weeks ago about the team and told his owner he was leaning toward retiring after the season ended. He said both men agreed to wait until season’s end — the Wolves also had the option to end the contract — to make such a decision.
Both Love and Rubio posted Instagram photos Monday that showed Adelman with his arm around each player.
“It has been a pleasure to play for you my first 3 years in NBA,” Rubio wrote. “What an incredible career. #legend #HallofFamer”
At age 67, Adelman said it’s time to spend more time with his family, to have Christmas at home in Portland, Ore., with his children and grandchildren and to live a more normal life.
“There’s a sadness because it’s something you’ve spent your life doing,” said Adelman, who accepted his first NBA coaching job in 1983 and was promoted to head coach for the first time in 1989. “It becomes your life, your family’s life. 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 …
“It’s going to be good. Flip just told me that I look a lot better. You don’t stress out about it.”
Adelman acknowledged his wife Mary Kay’s seizures — which caused him to miss games the past two seasons — contributed some to his decision.
“We’re doing fine right now,” he said, “and we want to keep it that way.”