Wessel: Rick Adelman's success with young Kings looks like a blueprint
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A little more than a third of the way through this lockout-shortened season, the Minnesota Timberwolves sat at 13-13 heading into Friday's game against the Dallas Mavericks.
Even more surprising than their .500 record was the fact they were only one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot in what is shaping up to be a crazy final 40 games in a stacked Western Conference.
Bold fans who had the cojones to mention the P-word before the season may feel vindicated. Those that crushed the under on the 25-game over/under set in Vegas may feel foolish. But anyone who has followed coach Rick Adelman's career probably should have probably seen this coming.
Adelman was fired in 1997 after two seasons with the Golden State Warriors because he failed to make the playoffs and duplicate the success he had in Portland, where he took the Trailblazers to the playoffs in all six seasons at the helm and the NBA Finals twice.
After a season away from the sideline, Adelman was hired by the woeful Sacramento Kings in the lockout-shortened 50-game season in 1998-99. The Kings had only been to the playoffs twice since relocating from Kansas City in the 1984-85 season and had long become the butt of many NBA jokes.
The similarities in personnel between that young Kings team and the current youthful bunch with lockers inside the Target Center are quite striking.
The Kings' superstar was Chris Webber, who -- like Kevin Love -- had been to one All-Star game at this point of his career and was a statistical leader for his team in the present season.
• Webber: 42 G, 20 PPG, .486 FG%, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 2.1 BPG in 40.9 minutes
• Love: 24 G, 25.0 PPG, .451 FG%, 13.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, .5 BPG in 39.4 minutes
The Kings started a flashy, rookie, pass-first point guard in Jason Williams who had a knack for winding up on SportsCenter with passes every kid in America would try to unsuccessfully duplicate on the playground the next day.
Ricky Rubio has more upside than Williams did, but their numbers as rookies are similar. Even Adelman brought up coaching the man eventually known as "White Chocolate" on media day when discussing Rubio.
• Williams: 50 G 12.8 PPG, .374 FG %, 6.0 APG, 1.9 SPG and 2.9 TO in 36.1 minutes
• Rubio: 25 G 11.2 PPG, .383 FG %, 9.0 APG, 2.4 SPG, and 3.2 TO in 34.8 minutes
Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn once infamously tried to compare then-Kings center Vlade Divac to current Wolf Darko Milicic -- to which Webber, who was present, damn near laughed his ass off.
But it's a different European center who -- like the Serbian Divac -- is leading the current Wolves resurgence in the middle. Nikola Pekovic from Montenegro is the center from across the pond who has become a fan favorite much in the same way the much-older Divac did in Sacramento.
The Wolves might actually turn out to be a better all-around team than those Kings, primarily for their defense.
The Kings ran teams out of the gym by scoring a league-leading 100.2 points per game while also giving up a league-worst 100.6.
The Wolves are No. 11 in scoring in the league with 96.8 points per game and only give up 95.2, good for 15th just a year removed from giving up a comically-bad 107.7.
The parallels are there.
Adelman, after failing to make the playoffs in the final year of his previous job, took over a young, inept team during a lockout-shortened season, with an All-Star power forward, a flashy, exciting rookie point guard and a European center in the middle.
In 1998-99, Adelman led the Kings to a 27-23 record, which was good enough for a No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. (Kevin Garnett and the Wolves finished No. 8.) They'd go on to give the Utah Jazz all they could handle in a classic five-game series.
Adelman has done it before in similar circumstances and it appears he could do it again.