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Updated: December 16th, 2011 4:28pm
Zulgad: Rick Adelman's approach proves to be a breath of fresh air

Zulgad: Rick Adelman's approach proves to be a breath of fresh air

by Judd Zulgad

Rick Adelman ranks eighth all-time in the NBA in regular-season coaching victories with 945, trailing only George Karl (1,036) of the Denver Nuggets among active coaches. He has led his teams to the playoffs 16 times in 20 seasons.

This success has created optimism that Adelman will be able to take the Minnesota Timberwolves from laughingstock to near respectability in his first season as their coach.

But heightened expectations provide no guarantee of success.

Point guard Ricky Rubio has drawn positive reviews in his first NBA camp but has yet to play a regular-season game. Kevin Love looks to be in fantastic condition but appears almost too thin for a power forward.

Derrick Williams was the second pick in the draft last June but, like Rubio, will have to learn on the job and is sure to have some rough moments in a lockout-shortened 66-game season that won't have much breathing room to correct mistakes in practice.

No matter what happens with the Wolves, however, there is one guarantee. The 65-year-old Adelman is going to do things the way he sees fit and isn't going to give a you-know-what if some don't like his approach.

Looking for a coach who wants to make people happy? Don't look to Adelman.

Talk about a breath of fresh air.

Adelman, whose previous coaching stops have been in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Houston, has earned the right to do things as he sees fit and that's exactly what will happen.

Kurt Rambis might have acted as if he deserved the same thing, but when you win 15 and then 17 games in two seasons it's hard for anyone to take your act seriously.

This includes fans, media and players.

Trying to pretend you deserve respect because you once played in the NBA or rode on Phil Jackson's coattails with the Lakers isn't going to cut it.

Adelman is a coaching-lifer who has shown that one of his most endearing qualities is going to be his inability to hide his feelings. This already has been on display a few times and the Wolves don't play their first preseason game until Saturday night.

At the Timberwolves media day last week, Adelman didn't waste any time in bringing up the fact the team's play on defense was putrid under Rambis.

"You have to take some responsibility at the defensive end," Adelman said. "I mean, it's horrendous the way they approach it."

A coach using the word "horrendous" to describe his team's play puts an instant smile on the face of any reporter who has heard a hundred coaches rattle off a thousand clichés in order to avoid the truth.

Adelman, mind you, was just getting started.

His disgust with the Wolves' defense came from firsthand experience in the regular-season finale last April when the Adelman-coached Rockets cruised to a 121-102 victory over the Wolves at Target Center.

"There is no way that you can give up as many easy baskets as they gave up," Adelman said, recalling the game between two teams that were out of the playoffs.

The comment served as a clear indication of the fact Adelman gets it, even if that wasn't his intent. Wolves fans certainly will appreciate the fact the new coach, a respected coach, understands this product has been flat-out brutal for far too long and is willing to say something about it.

Adelman never came out and mentioned Rambis but he didn't need to.

It was understood that Adelman was disgusted by what he had witnessed that April night at Target Center and he was on the winning sideline.

If Adelman is willing to share these feelings with the public, there is little doubt his players are hearing the same thing in a far harsher tone.

Any thought that Adelman's criticism of his team was a show for media day was washed away this week when he was at it again.

This time the focus was on the Wolves' propensity to turn over the ball.

"We just threw the ball all over the place," he said after a practice session. "We have to find a way where they make better plays and better decisions. ... They are trying to make passes that aren't there.

"The way we play, you have to make decisions, you have to give them the freedom to do things and if it continues this way I am going to have to change things where certain guys aren't allowed to do certain things."

So who was to blame?

"It is everybody," Adelman said. "The gloves are off on everybody."

That's the way it should be.

The Wolves have won 32 games in the past two seasons. Twenty-two NBA teams won more than 32 games last season.

Adelman has won fewer than 32 games in a full season only once in his head coaching career and that happened 14 years ago with Golden State.

Timberwolves President Chris Wright said last week that he did not receive one negative comment during the lockout in part because he felt Wolves fans were just eager to see the product.

They wanted to see what Adelman could do with Rubio, Williams and Love.

A reporter asked Wright if he was sure the lack of complaints wasn't a sign of apathy. But it appears Wright's assessment might have been correct.

It has taken a marquee opponent to make Target Center a popular destination in recent seasons, but that might no longer be the case.

A Wolves official confirmed Friday the team has sold 15,000-plus tickets for Saturday's preseason opener against Milwaukee. It's the most single-game tickets the franchise has moved for a preseason contest since 2004-05.

Adelman likely wouldn't care if there were 500, 1,500 or 15,000 people in the building. Heck, he might like the lowest-figure possible during what could be an ugly dry run.

The good thing is that no matter how the Wolves perform, Adelman will give an honest assessment of what he sees.

And if that happens to ruffle some feathers, one has a feeling Adelman isn't going to care one bit.

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.
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