All throughout NBA history there have been coaches that have greatly influenced a player’s career. Whether it’s Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan or Jerry Sloan with John Stockton and Karl Malone, we’ve seen time and time again throughout history how important these pairings can be. For a coach with a player in his young formative years, he can make or break their career. If he’s a good coach, of course, he can make his career. On the other hand, if a coach doesn’t mesh with a player for whatever reason it can setback or derail their development entirely. In the case of Jordan, Jackson brought in the Triangle through the teachings of guru Tex Winter that changed the perception of Jordan from a volume shooting two-guard to the gold standard for which we now hold all shooting guards. This is stark in contrast to the clash that Jordan had with previous coach Doug Collins, who was notorious for being hard on his players even until last season when he was coaching the Philadelphia 76ers. For Jordan and many others, a great determinant of their professional success had or has to do with finding the right person to foster that growth
Then there are smaller scale examples like the Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman and Kevin Martin. The two go back to Martin’s rookie season in 2004-’05 in Sacramento and have spent the the better part of the last decade as partner’s in crime. Martin was the Kings’ first overall pick in 2004 and was selected 26th overall. Yet, Martin struggled for playing time behind veterans Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson (Now a Timberwolves assistant coach) and Cutino Mobley. Not only did Martin struggle for playing time, but also production as well, shooting just .200 from deep and .385 overall. Things changed in 2005 as the Kings would clear room for Martin by letting Mobley walk in free agency and then trading Bobby Jackson for Bonzi Wells. That season Martin earned a role as the primary backup shooting guard behind Wells. Martin shot .488 percent from three off of the bench which provided them an upgrade from Wells’ .222 percent. After Martin’s breakout year, Adelman would move on to Houston, temporarily splitting up the duo.
Kevin Martin would trudge through another four and a half injury plagued years with the Kings before being traded to the Rockets in 2009 as a part of the three team trade that also sent Tracy McGrady to the Knicks and Larry Hughes from New York to Sacramento. The Rockets, having just gotten done dealing McGrady’s injury issues, were taking a chance on Martin at this point. Out of 328 possible games from the 2005-’06 season until 2009-’10, Martin missed 88 games or 26 percent of those possible games. Yet, thanks to a combination of sustained health and being reunited with his longtime coach, Martin’s production returned to the levels of his early Kings days until 2011 when Martin and Adelman would once again part ways again.
Fast forward to this passed summer of 2013. It’s late September and Martin just signed a longterm deal two months before with the Minnesota Timberwolves to reunite with Adelman once again. By now everyone has made note of the well-documented history between the two. Adelman talked about how Martin approached him last season when the guard was with the Oklahoma City Thunder asking when the two were going to reunite with his impending free agency. Furthermore, Adelman was excited about the fact that he was going to give the team the shooter they needed and the fact that Martin was like an extra assistant when it came to implementing Adelman’s offense.
Through 11 games, Martin has thrived in a Timberwolves uniform. His percentages are up to career highs and he is scoring at levels that we have not seen him do in about five years. Even his rebounds and steals per game are now where they were when he was 26 and on his way out of California. The point is that while players like Martin are going to be good players no matter what, their ability to land with a coach who has the personality and the system to complement their skills is what can take them to the very next level.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Adelman-Martin pairing has been so successful is that they have a mutual respect for one another. You can hear it in the way that Adelman speaks of Martin, but it’s also evident in the things Martin does, like reaching out to him last season about playing together again. For proof of this respect, look at what Adelman told Martin when he started off Saturday night’s game against the Celtics 2-8 from the floor and 0-4 from deep:
He’s just gotta be aggressive. I told him: You gotta be more aggressive. Every shot you took was short; every shot you took was slow. It was like a back-to-back game and that’s how he looked. He got a little more aggressive and a little bit more energy in his play and he started making shots again. It’s going to happen. He’s like Kevin Love where at any time he can go off, and he got it going again in the third quarter.
The coach was right, evidenced by Martin improving to 4-10 in the second half of the game as the Timberwolves would go on to put the Celtics in the rearview mirror for good. This is a case where neither player nor coach is in a constant battle to assert their own ego or let their pride get in the way of success. Adelman can tell Martin, “Hey, pick it up, you’re dragging out there,” without hurting any feelings or causing any sort of a rift. There’s a reason these two are now on their third stint together in the league, which is a bit of a rarity.
Martin may have gone on to become a very good player in the NBA had he landed with a different coach, but the fact that he landed with Adelman undoubtedly helped sow the seeds of a successful NBA career. Or who knows. Maybe another coach wouldn’t have made it a point to clear playing time for a late-first round pick coming off of a rookie season where he could hardly make a shot. At the same time, Martin has brought a sense of familiarity to the team helped Adelman in his third season with Timberwolves by helping them to their second-best start in franchise history. This may not be a Popovich-Duncan, Jordan-Jackson or Sloan-Stockton/Malone level pairing, but this is still one of the more productive pairings of our time.