Twenty-five years and 1,042 victories since he coached his first NBA game, the Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman is expected to walk away from the sidelines after Wednesday’s regular-season finale into retirement and toward a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
When he does, he will do so with almost no fanfare, without even the public presentation of a single rocking chair to wish him well.
He could quite simply — given his silence about the matter in this season’s final weeks — just walk off into the mist.
“You know what? That’s him,” said Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin, who has played for Adelman in Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota. “That’s how he has always been. It has worked for him. That’s probably how he would want it.”
A family man who often says little unless he is giving an honest answer to a question, Adelman clearly has been careful not to address his future in these days and weeks leading to Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Utah at Target Center.
“You’re right,” Adelman said before Monday night’s 130-120 loss at Golden State. “One more day.”
Adelman is 67 and he is completing the third of three playoff-less seasons with the Wolves during which his wife, Mary Kay, has been treated for seizures. One season remains on the four-year contract Adelman signed in September 2011, but either he or the Wolves can choose to end it within a two-week window after Wednesday’s game.
“It’s a tossup right now,” Wolves star Kevin Love said when asked about Adelman’s future, “and everybody is feeling this could be it for him.”
Sacramento coach Mike Malone, the son of former NBA coach Brendan Malone, approached Adelman after Sunday’s game for an exchange that went beyond the usual postgame nod of congratulations.
“I think Rick’s respected to the point where Coach Malone went up to him and said his words to him at the end of the game,” Martin said. “He’s respected like that around the league and the front offices. He’s just a low-key guy. If you know basketball, you know what he has done and he’s OK with that.”
An early break
A point guard who played for five different teams in seven NBA seasons, Adelman figured he would teach and coach high school basketball the rest of his life after the Kansas City-Omaha Kings cut him in 1975. His first coaching job at little Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore., attracted the attention of Trail Blazers legendary coach Jack Ramsay, who hired him over another candidate named George Karl for an assistant coaching job in 1983.
All these years later, Adelman and Karl are two of only eight men in NBA history who have won 1,000 games as a head coach. Coincidentally, Karl could be a candidate to replace Adelman as the Wolves’ next head coach.
Six years after he beat out Karl for that assistant’s job, Adelman was promoted to head coach in midseason and inherited a team that included Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and soon added Buck Williams. Adelman took the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals in the next three seasons.
Over 23 seasons, he has coached 1,790 games in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota, winning 58 percent of them.
He won with talent and offensive rebounding might in Portland, lost during a brief but enlightening stay at Golden State and adapted to big men Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Brad Miller and their passing talents in Sacramento. During those eight successful seasons with the Kings, he borrowed many motion concepts from assistant coach Pete Carril’s “Princeton” offense, making them his own in a system that became known in the final half of his career as Adelman’s “corner” offense that influenced NBA coaches both young and old.
“Every coach in this league has taken some of his offense,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said.