JON KRAWCZYNSKI, AP Basketball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has decided to retire after 23 seasons in the NBA.
Adelman made the announcement Monday, five days after the Wolves wrapped up a disappointing 40-42 season.
The decision brings to an end to a celebrated coaching career that includes 1,042 victories, eighth on the NBA’s career list. He coached Western Conference powers in Portland and Sacramento and also had stops in Golden State and Houston.
Adelman said the time is right for him to step aside and spend more time with his wife, Mary Kay, who has been treated for seizures over the last two years. He also thinks the Wolves need a fresh voice to help them try to persuade star power forward Kevin Love to remain in Minnesota.
“I think it was kind of a gradual thing that just kept coming,” Adelman said of his decision-making process. “And looking for the whole organization, I think it’s best that maybe a new voice at the coaching position would be best right now.”
Adelman just completed the third season of a four-year deal with Minnesota that he signed 2011. There was a mutual option for the final year of the deal.
After missing the playoffs for the third straight season, Adelman decided it was time to walk away from one of the most quietly influential coaching careers in NBA history. The introverted coach worked below the radar for most of his career, but his impact on the league is unquestioned.
“I think every coach in this league has taken some of his concepts,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can see every team has part of his corner series as part of their offense.”
Adelman won at least 50 games in a season 11 times in his career, helped turnaround the Portland Trail Blazers in the late 1980s and then built a power in Sacramento 10 years later. He had more modest success with Houston and Minnesota, but walks away with his fingerprints all over the league.
“He’s been in several different programs, made them all better, done a heck of a job wherever he’s gone, has always been underrated and has been a guy that players have really enjoyed playing for,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s who he is.”
While with the Kings, Adelman worked with assistant and former Princeton coach Pete Carril to fine-tune his famed “corner” offense, a precision system that maximized the talents of big men Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Brad Miller, all of whom were gifted passers from the elbow of the lane.
“A lot of people have run the elbow action, but no one’s run it like him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He started doing it in Portland and then in Sac, everywhere he’s gone he’s won for the most part. He’s one of the better coaches that we’ve ever had in the league and a lot of people don’t realize that. And I think that’s too bad. But he’s been good for the game. He’s brought a lot to the game.”
“I’ve stolen from him, very honestly,” Popovich said.
Adelman’s career started reluctantly in 1988, when he took over the Trail Blazers after Mike Schuler was fired during the season. The following season, in his first full year as an NBA head coach, Adelman led the Blazers to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons. He had the Blazers back in the finals in 1992, but they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Adelman turned the Kings from a perennial loser into one of the most entertaining and successful teams in the West from 1998-2004.
“In terms of the impact he’s had on the league, you just check out everybody’s playbook,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who caught the coaching bug while watching Adelman’s Portland teams when he was a college point guard at the University of Portland. “Everybody has at least some version or piece of his offense in their playbook. And most teams call it Sacramento. He was and has been an incredible innovator in this game.”
He had a two-year stop in Golden State from 1995-97, where he learned hard lessons about sticking to what he believed in and not letting others influence his approach, and that hardened philosophy served him well the rest of his career.
With a Houston team missing its two biggest stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Adelman used 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes at center and took the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in 2009.
His Timberwolves teams suffered a litany of injuries as well, but he still did manage to take a team that had combined for 32 wins in the two years before his hiring and get them to .500 three years later.
Adelman’s final season in Minnesota was a frustrating one, with Nikola Pekovic missing 28 games, Chase Budinger never fully healthy after offseason knee surgery and a team that beat the Thunder, Heat, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Pacers but also lost to the Kings, Magic and Jazz. They still finished 40-42, with nine more victories than last season.
Now the team heads into a precarious summer, with President Flip Saunders needing to find the right coach and make the right personnel moves to keep Love, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, a friend of Saunders for years, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a former Timberwolves player and executive, and ESPN analyst George Karl are among the candidates likely to be considered to take over a team that has the longest-running playoff drought in the league at 10 years. Saunders himself could also take over, though owner Glen Taylor has said he prefers to keep Saunders in the front office.
Even as Adelman prepares to ride off into the sunset to spend more time with his beloved wife Mary Kay and eight grandchildren, his influence will remain in the league he called home for 25 years. Rivers still remembers a particular play Adelman ran when he coached the Kings.
“We copied it and won a game with it in Boston and called it Adelman,” Rivers said. “It was great.”
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