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An Old Friend: Rick Adelman

Apr 5, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman talks with center Gorgui Dieng (5) against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Back in May, Ricky Rubio sat down with a reporter in Spain. Speaking in his native tongue he spoke bluntly about some of the proverbial bumps in the road, factors that prevented the Minnesota Timberwolves from postseason contention for the 10th consecutive season, and Rubio hinted that becoming a leader might be the next step in his development as a point guard. He touched on the emergence of Gorgui Dieng late in the season, and Rubio insinuated that perhaps things may have been different had Dieng seen more opportunities earlier in the year when the Wolves struggled to win close games.

Throughout the year tensions in the locker room reflected into the public eye by way of media coverage, and Rick Adelman’s commitment to coaching the Wolves served as a scapegoat for many because there simply was no answer for why his group of players weren’t getting it done in close games. Did Adelman scoff at the idea of giving rookies Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad ample time on the floor during the regular season, and other unknowable claims measuring an imaginary commitment level surfaced on the twitterverse and blogosphere.

Later in the interview, it was the translated context in which Rubio described Adelman, Minnesota’s former coach who amassed over 1,000 wins during his tenure in the NBA, that rekindled skepticism among Wolves fans.

“Have you felt your coach Rick Adelman?” Antoni Daimiel, a reporter for the Spanish website CanalPlus.es, asked Rubio, “Being his last season, and with his personal problems, do you feel he was disconnected or “discouraged?”

“Yes, maybe.” Rubio answered, “Maybe the team lacked the proper motivation, not only from the coach, but the motivation of wanting to win from all of us. This includes the staff, coaches and assistants, and whoever else has command over that. When you know it’s your last season and you’re not 100 percent players can feel it. Still, even at 80 percent, Rick Adelman knows so much.

[Quotes are translations, original translation found here]

Adelman retired at the end of the season, but he remains on the Timberwolves staff as a consultant for the team. His son, David, is an assistant coach on Flip Saunders’ staff. Yesterday, after falling to the Dallas Mavericks in their Las Vegas Summer League opener, the Wolves filed out of the locker room in the Thomas and Mack Arena and into a small, open area behind the north basket.

Other assistant coaches Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe and Ryan Saunders meandered among themselves and some of the Mavericks’ assistants and players, moreover, a familiar face lingered in the back of the open area where media members are permitted to talk with NBA players and personnel– Adelman could be seen exchanging greetings with those he had coached through an underwhelming, turbulent 2013-2014 season.

Zgoda was right, Adelman did looked relaxed. He wasn’t seen talking with the current coaching staff, nor did he seem flustered that the Wolves just lost the Mavericks in submissive fashion, but Adelman chatted with those he presumably isolated last season.

Adelman was seen talking with Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Alexey Shved– a Russian international who appeared isolated from teammates last season, after Andrei Kirilenko left Minnesota and joined the Brooklyn Nets last summer. While fans and Rubio (maybe, to some extent) questioned why their beloved Wolves underwhelmed in 2013-14, and as those answers seemed to point toward Adelman, Adelman seemed above it all, talking with old friends.

Basketball is a game, a professional sport covered rigorously by the media. But the NBA is also a brotherhood. Those on the outside looking into the league who are concerned with tiny, insignificant quotes and gestures from players and coaches that are absurdly speculated upon may forget that Adelman and the Timberwolves have an immeasurable connection we could never begin to fathom.

Although the 67-going-on-68 year old may have lost the touch that elevated Adelman to the most elite circle of coaches in NBA history, it’s apparent he still loves the game, and he’s here in Las Vegas supporting the young, emerging Timberwolves who endured the controversy and criticisms beside Adelman last season. It’s what old friends do.

Zachary Bennett