Rick Adelman tries to mold Timberwolves into winners
So when the players finally reported for duty, the veteran coach was ready with an exhaustive presentation that laid bare the young team's flaws and broke down into painstaking detail exactly what went wrong last season for a team that lost 65 games.
"We sensed it the first day we got into Target Center for practice, in the first meeting before we got on the court," guard Wes Johnson said. "You can sense it is going to be a totally different year."
It better be. Timberwolves president David Kahn fired the first coach he hired, Kurt Rambis, after two years and 132 losses. Another basement finish this season likely would seal the same fate for Kahn. So he reached out and convinced the 65-year-old Adelman, who is eighth on the career coaching victories list, to take over this mess and start turning it around.
"There's a reason why they didn't win a lot of games," Adelman said, adding: "Stats don't lie."
That kind of honesty and well-researched approach is exactly what these Wolves needed, Johnson said.
"They told us right off the bat all the percentages, what we ran and how to play to our strengths," he said. "That opened a lot of guys' eyes that they mean business and they don't take losing into consideration. I think that's what everybody's happy about."
Why would such an accomplished coach, albeit one who has yet to win a championship, cast his next lot with one of the worst franchises in the league?
For the challenge.
Adelman may see a young, undisciplined, defensively deficient unit that lacks a go-to scorer for crunch time. But he also sees a tantalizing amount of raw talent that he can mold into the kind of athletic, exciting team that fits his wide-open, pass-heavy system.
In Kevin Love, he has the versatile, sweet-shooting big man who is also the best rebounder in the league. He has a pass-first point guard in Ricky Rubio, who has been throwing alley oops to professionals in Europe since he was 14 years old. And he has two athletic forwards — Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams — who can score in bunches.
Chris Webber played for Adelman on those high-flying Sacramento Kings teams of the late 1990s and said Adelman is "probably the one of the first guys you want to call to start building a team that hadn't done so well."
"He's going to empower players to be as good as you want to be or he's going to give you enough rope to hang yourself," Webber said. "So as a player you have to up your personal responsibility."
For as much as Adelman enjoys coaching a veteran team with a chance to contend for a championship — like he did in Portland and Sacramento years ago — he has found almost equal satisfaction in watching a young, inexperienced group learn how to be professionals.
He first discovered that in Houston, when stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady went down with injuries, leaving him a far less talented group to work with. Those Rockets — Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, etc. — took the Lakers to seven games in the 2009 Western Conference semis, and Adelman relished the experience.
"Our last two years in Houston, we went from having two superstars and being one of the favorites to basically having a young group and having guys taking over roles they weren't brought in to do," he said. "But I found I really enjoyed the experience coaching that group because you saw the growth, you saw them grow into roles, you saw them grow into leadership roles."
There's a lot of growing to be done in Minnesota. The Timberwolves haven't made the playoffs since 2004 and are still searching for an identity ever since trading cornerstone Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in 2007.
They were last in turnovers and points allowed last season and 27th in 3-point defense and field goal shooting. They added veteran J.J. Barea from the champion Dallas Mavericks to try and instill some toughness and grit, but ultimately will need core players like Love, Rubio, Beasley and Williams to lead the way.
The Timberwolves have said things were going to be different before. They've promised the losing was going to stop and the team was going to be more exciting before.
This time, with Adelman in the mix, the promises seem to be carrying a little more weight. More than 15,000 fans attended the preseason opener last weekend and the season opener against Oklahoma City on Monday will be sold out, with a buzz surrounding this team that hasn't been there since Garnett roamed the paint.
"I don't know if huge jump is the right word. I don't know what it's going to be," Love said. "But I do feel like not only with our coaching staff, but just everybody on the same page, just the feel of training camp, it's just different, and different in a good way."