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Updated: September 28th, 2011 6:13pm
Zulgad: Rick Adelman takes on what will be his greatest challenge

Zulgad: Rick Adelman takes on what will be his greatest challenge

by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS - Rick Adelman has spent 20 seasons coaching in the NBA. During that time, he has had far more successes than failures.

Adelman took Portland to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, led the Trail Blazers to three appearances in the Western Conference finals and two division titles and helped Sacramento reach one conference finals and win two division crowns.

He is one of only five coaches in NBA history to win 60-plus games with two different teams and ranks eighth all-time in the league with 945 victories in stints with Portland (1988-94), Golden State (1995-97), Sacramento (1998-2006) and Houston (2007-11).

When Adelman and the Rockets decided to part company after his contract expired last spring, it did not come as a surprise when he told reporters he planned to take a season off just as he had done after each of his previous coaching stops.

In fact, it made perfect sense.

It also made perfect sense that Adelman picked up the phone when the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers called about their head coaching job and engaged in what started and ended as "preliminary" talks.

What didn't compute was why Adelman spent Wednesday afternoon at Target Center being introduced as the 10th head coach in Timberwolves history. Adelman is 65 years old and has plenty of money.

So why would he do an about face and not only decide to coach this season - assuming the NBA labor situation is resolved - but take over a bottom-feeder franchise that was 17-65 in 2010-11?

"I kept looking at this group and I thought, this could be a really good situation with the youth they have, the talent they have," Adelman said with Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn sitting to his right during a press conference. "You never know what you can do and I felt it was a great challenge. So I decided it's a good place to take the challenge up and try to turn things around."

Challenge might be putting it lightly.

The Wolves have not won as many as 30 games since the 2006-07 season and have not qualified for the playoffs the past seven seasons. The coach who preceded Adelman, Kurt Rambis, had a two-year record of 32-132 before being told his services were no longer required.

This situation qualifies more as a mess than a challenge.

But Kahn is banking his job on the fact Adelman is the right guy to get the franchise back on track. That is why while owner Glen Taylor is paying Rambis about $4 million over the next two seasons not to coach the team, he will be reportedly writing out a $5 million check per season to Adelman.

"I think anybody who's working, money is a factor for sure, but I would not say it was the tipping point no," Adelman said.

The money might be good but one has to wonder if it's worth the frustration Adelman is going to have to endure during what he views as his final coaching stop.

The argument that could be made, and what Adelman likely saw when he looked at the Wolves roster, was a team that has been so bad for so long that it might be forced to get good by the sheer fact that it has had so many high draft picks.

The Wolves took Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the second overall pick in June and they also signed Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, who had been playing in Barcelona after being selected fifth overall in the 2009 draft.

Forward Kevin Love, who played high school basketball with Adelman's son in Portland, also is a key piece of the Wolves and is far more likely to remain in Minnesota now that Adelman has arrived.

Still, that doesn't mean any of this is going to be easy. Years of ineptitude takes time to overcome and a lockout that doesn't have an end in sight means Kahn and Adelman are very limited in what they can do. Adelman's next step will be hiring his assistants.

Adelman and Kahn were prohibited by the NBA from discussing any specifics about their team or players at Wednesday's press conference. But Adelman had no restrictions from discussing what it will be like when the Wolves lose 10 in a row. The team ended last season by dropping their final 15.

"I've thought a lot about that," he said. "If that's the way it's going to be where you have some losses and have some tough times, you have to be resilient enough to show them that we're going to get through this.

"I've had situations where I did lose. When I was in Golden State we lost a lot of games, but I think I learned a lot during that period. Last year this team, I guess they lost 15 in a row or whatever, those are the streaks that try you. You've got to try to avoid those.

"And I think you can avoid them if you keep guys going in the right direction. But it's going to be hard. I'm the first to admit it. You can ask my wife. I'm not real easy to be around when we start losing a lot. But it's part of the game in the NBA."

In his time as a coach in this league, Adelman has only had a sub-.500 record three times and the first came when he took over in Portland in 1988-89 and went 14-21. The other losing years came with the Warriors, as he went 36-46 in 1995-96 and 30-52 the next season before he made a quick departure.

That experience might be one reason why Kahn had to show great patience with Adelman as he attempted to decide whether this was a job he really wanted. Kahn interviewed six other candidates, but held out hope Adelman would finally say yes.

Kahn, who admitted the lockout made it much easier to be patient as Adelman considered his options, even did something that likely was very tough for him and backed off.

"There were a couple times where I felt the exact right thing to do, and I did it, was I told him, 'I'm not calling you,'" said Kahn, who has known Adelman since the 1980s when the former was a sportswriter in Portland. "The last thing he needed was feeling me pressing him. He needed the opposite. Needed some time alone, needed to think. Me calling every few days would've probably had a terrible affect."

Losing also could have a terrible affect on Adelman, or at least cause him to question his decision to come to Minnesota. But on Wednesday, he elected to see the glass as half full. Even if NBA rules prohibited him from talking about the contents of that glass.

"I don't think you're that far from turning things around even though they didn't win a lot of games last year, there's so many pieces," he said. "What happened before, I don't care about right now. I only care about what happened from this day forward and I'm hoping that's how they approach it.

"There's no reason we can't be much better next year and there's no reason they shouldn't believe that. So I don't know if there's a timetable, but I do believe the potential is there and everything is there for us to make strides." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Kevin Love, Kurt Rambis