MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For about three months, Rick Adelman was coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in name only.
He was officially hired in September, but the NBA lockout prevented from speaking to, or speaking about, the players he signed on to coach.
The silence was finally broken this week when owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, and Adelman didn’t mince words in his first public comments specifically about his team.
The veteran coach said his film study showed a team that was “horrendous” on the defensive end, and a young group that needed to show accountability and responsibility if they wanted to improve from the second-worst record in the league last year.
That’s why Adelman was so eager to hit the practice floor on Friday for the first time. This team has a lot of work to do, and very little time to do it to get ready for the opener on Dec. 26.
“I think that’s what our biggest challenge is going to be as a group, as a coaching staff, to the players, and we’re all going to have to figure out a way to build the trust here in a short period of time,” Adelman said.
The Timberwolves began the latest in a series of new beginnings on Friday, with Adelman and his coaching staff taking over for Kurt Rambis, who was fired after two seasons and a 32-132 record. And after being banned from even texting with each over the past five months of the lockout, there was plenty of curiosity on both sides.
“I just met him for first time like five minutes ago,” new point guard Ricky Rubio said, “and he’s saying he want to talk with me and see what we can do together to help the team.”
Adelman inherits one of the youngest teams in the league, with Rubio and No. 2 overall draft pick Derrick Williams the major additions to a core that includes Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson.
“I don’t think really anybody knows what’s going to happen,” Williams said.
It’s an extremely athletic team that turned the ball over far too many times last season and played some of the worst defense in the NBA, two things that Adelman says have to change in a hurry.
After he parted ways with the Houston Rockets at the end of last season, many expected Adelman to take a year off and wait for a plum job with a veteran, contending team to open up. But the 65-year-old appeared to be galvanized by the team’s youth and ready for the challenge of remaking one of the league’s woebegone franchises.
“You always want to have a really talented team. You want a chance to win everything, you know?” he said. “But I want to see, can we turn this thing around? Can we build?”
The players seem equally excited to work with a coach with Adelman’s resume. He has won 945 games in 20 seasons as coach of the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Kings and Rockets, and the players are eager to see what he has to teach them.
“He’s proven that he can win with a different set of guys with a different set of skill sets,” All-Star forward Kevin Love said. “We’re looking forward to what he can do with this team. With him it’s all about a challenge.”
The first practice on Friday night lasted for more than three hours, with Adelman and his coaching staff installing just the basics of what he wants to do.
“It wasn’t bad,” Adelman said after getting his first look at his team on the court. “The scrimmage was ragged, which is typical. … We’ve got to defend better, especially transition defense was not good today. That’s been their breakdowns. We’ve got to take care of the ball. We made poor decisions with the ball.”
The Timberwolves open the preseason with a game against the Bucks on Dec. 17, just one week from now. They host the Thunder on Dec. 26, so the rush is on.
In between now and then, Adelman will have to learn how to divvy up the playing time with a glut of forwards, including Beasley, Williams and Anthony Randolph and try to teach Rubio the differences between playing in Europe and playing in the United States.
He said he’d love to get another veteran or two, but if they can’t, the teaching will just have to keep coming in heavy doses.
“We had a good meeting,” Adelman said. “The guys’ attitudes are good. We’ve just got to keep building each practice.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)