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Family comes first for former NBA, Blazers coach



Photo Credit: MELISSA MAJCHRZAK/GETTY IMAGES - Former NBA and former Trail Blazers coach Rick Adelman says he hasnt been doing much in retirement, but it seems like time just flies by.Last week, George Karl returned to the bench, taking over head coaching duties with the Sacramento Kings. Karl, 63, hasn’t yet gotten the bug out of his system.

Rick Adelman has.

“I’m retired,” says Adelman, 68, visiting with a reporter he has known for more than 25 years at a Portland coffee shop. “I had a lot of years. Now it’s time for me to do other things.”

What those things are, Adelman isn’t quite sure.

The man who meant so much to Trail Blazer basketball as both a player and coach is still transitioning into retirement after an NBA career that spanned 3 1/2 decades.

“What have I been doing? Not all that much,” Adelman says with a laugh. “It seems like time just flies by.”

Adelman and his wife of 44 years, Mary Kay, have kept busy moving their possessions from their Minneapolis condo to their home in Dunthorpe. They’ve spent time with the four of their six children who live in Oregon, along with eight grandchildren (two more are on the way).

“That’s been great,” Adelman says. “The grandkids are a ball. There are games on Saturdays to attend. It’s a lot of fun watching them grow up.”

Adelman ended his 23-year career as an NBA head coach last April after three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Over his 22 full seasons, Adelman experienced five losing campaigns — his two with Golden State from 1995-97 and and the three years with the Timberwolves.

The Los Angeles native ranks eighth on the NBA coaches career-win list with a record of 1,042-749. He is 10th on the career playoff win list with a mark of 79-78.

Adelman took 16 teams to the postseason, including the 1990 and ‘92 Portland teams that reached the NBA finals. Of the coaches ahead of him on the win list, only Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and George Karl have better win-loss percentages.

Does Adelman miss coaching?

“Not really,” he says. “I miss being around the people. I miss the competitiveness. I miss the game itself. I don’t miss the everyday grind. It got to be too much.”

What, specifically?

“The travel,” he says. “Everything has gotten more intrusive. You have to speak (to the media) before and after every game. You get asked the same question over and over again, and you have no news.

“When I first started, you’d go to practice and deal with your players and play the games. Now you’re dealing with the agents and the players’ lives. There are more everyday things. That part of it wasn’t fun.”

Adelman was an original Trail Blazer, the point guard on Portland’s first NBA teams from 1970-73. His roommate on the road was Geoff Petrie, who served as his boss as general manager of the Blazers and Sacramento Kings from 1990-2006.

After a six-year stint as head coach at Chemeketa Community College from 1977-83, Adelman served as an assistant coach with the Blazers for 5 1/2 seasons under Jack Ramsay and Mike Schuler. When Schuler was fired in February 1988, Adelman took over the head-coaching reins.

What followed was the best five-year run in the Blazers’ 45-year history. In Adelman’s five full seasons as head coach, Portland went 277-133 — averaging 55 victories — and twice made it to the NBA finals.

The teams from 1989-92 featured Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth and Cliff Robinson.

“That was the favorite group over my entire coaching career,” Adelman says. “I went from getting a job to getting to the finals my first year. That doesn’t happen very often. Those teams were special.”

Adelman was fired by owner Paul Allen after going 47-35 in 1993-94 and being ousted in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season. When Allen chose to dismiss Adelman, Petrie resigned his position.

“I still believe they broke that team up too early,” Adelman says. “I wanted one more chance with that group, but that was Paul’s decision. And I’m great by Paul. He gave me my first shot.”

Adelman went to Golden State, where his teams suffered through two losing seasons. Then Petrie, who had taken over as president/basketball operations at Sacramento, hired Adelman as coach. Thus began a remarkable eight-year run in which the Kings had eight straight winning seasons and reached the Western Conference finals in 2002, losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Kings, led by players such as Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby, had five straight 50-win seasons.

“I got to coach two teams that were really special,” Adelman says. “We didn’t win a championship, but both groups were fun to coach, yet totally different groups.

“The Blazers were physical. We had the three best offensive rebounders at their position in the league — Clyde, Buck and Jerome. Sometimes it seems like we’d throw it up there just to get it back and get a better shot. Sacramento was a more finesse team. Everybody could pass. Everybody could shoot.”

Adelman had four straight winning seasons in Houston, then moved to Minnesota, where injuries eroded what could have been a great turnaround from a 17-65 season the year before he arrived. Adelman’s Minnesota teams went 26-40, 31-51 and 40-42.

“The first year was a disaster,” he says. “I never had such a group of guys who didn’t know how to play in the NBA. They were undisciplined; they didn’t listen.

“The second year, that group was starting to play pretty well, but Kevin Love broke his hand twice and Ricky Rubio hurt his knee. Last year, we had a great chance to make the playoffs, but we had guys missing throughout the whole season.”

There were more personal concerns. In January, Mary Kay suffered a series of seizures, causing Rick to be away from the team for 11 games. At the end of the season, Adelman chose to retire.

“I believe I could have returned,” he says, “but it was the right thing to do. It was a combination of things — not just Mary Kay’s health, but me, too. The last three years were really difficult. I wanted to get out of the rat race.

“We wanted to get back to Portland. Minnesota is tough in the winter. We had a place downtown. I was five to 10 minutes from the arena. But it got to be too much.”

Adelman isn’t sure he likes what has become an impossible NBA game to officiate.

“The league won’t be happy with me saying it, but we used to have a rulebook,” he says. “Now we just have interpretations. There are no rules anymore. Every few years, everything changes.

“The most dramatic thing is post defense. The rules changed five, six times through my coaching career. There are no traveling calls anymore. (Referees) have too much to look at. You have to get used to it, you have to accept it, and the players and coaches generally do. They go with the flow, and they understand that’s the way it’s going to be called. Sometimes it changes game to game, and you have to adjust to that.

“Players are so athletic now, and it has become an impossible game to referee. They do their best, but there are so many younger officials, it takes them awhile to figure it all out.”

Adelman says there are many changes in the game since he began as a player in the late 1960s.

“It’s completely different from when I played,” he says. “The coaching is so much better now, with the scouting and the number of coaches. Everybody is prepared for every game.

“The 3-point shot has changed everything. It used to be that every team had post-up players. There are not a whole lot of post-up players in the league anymore. It’s all 3-point shooting. The game is spread out, and the big people are very skilled, too, shooting 3’s. The players are so much better now.”

Adelman always did a great job working with the varying skill sets of his players.

“You have to adapt to the team you have,” he says. “Everybody talks about a system. Your system has to be able to adjust to the talent you have.

“(San Antonio’s Gregg) Popovich has shown that. His team now is totally different than it was before. Good coaches adjust to the players because it’s a players’ league, not a coaches’ league. I don’t care who you are, if you have bad talent, you’re not going to win in the league.”

How did Adelman do it?

“By understanding every player is different,” he says. “You don’t treat everybody the same. There are some players who accept more discipline. Other players will not allow you to call them out in front of the team or in the newspaper. You have to put the players in a position where they feel they can succeed, and the team can succeed, too. If you can win, they’ll buy into it.

“That’s a hard thing nowadays. Many players have an entourage. It’s not one agent; sometimes it’s four agents. It’s family and friends and hangers-on. Everybody has an influence. You have to figure out how to deal with that. The only way you can is to form a relationship with the player, where he trusts you. Otherwise, he’s not going to listen to you after awhile.”

Adelman did a marvelous job of getting his players to buy in. He got the most out of players who had feuded with other coaches, players such as Rod Strickland and Webber and Latrell Sprewell. A rare exception was Tim Hardaway, whom he had trouble with at Golden State.

“I blame a lot of that on myself,” Adelman says. “I went from the Trail Blazer job, where everything broke well for us until the end when they fired me, but it was a great scenario. When I went to the Warriors, I listened to people I shouldn’t have listened to instead of doing it how I felt it should be done. I alienated Tim, got on his bad side, and it was hard to turn that back around. We ended up trading him and making other trades, and it didn’t work out.

“I learned my lesson. If you’re going to succeed, you’d better figure out a way to get along with your main players. For the most part, I was able to do that.”

Coaching is in his rear-view mirror now, with family issues at the forefront. Mary Kay’s health has improved.

“Doctors have never identified exactly why she had the seizures,” Adelman says. “They think it might have been some type of virus. She has not had any lately. The medicine is hard on her, but she’s doing good.”

One of Adelman’s three sons, David, coached with him in Minnesota and remains on the Timberwolves’ staff under Flip Saunders.

“That was one of the hardest things about walking away,” Adelman says. “I brought David into it, and now he has to earn his own way. But that’s what it’s all about.”

The oldest boy, R.J., worked as director of player personnel with the Timberwolves during Rick’s time there. R.J. is now living in Houston.

The youngest son, Patrick, is in his first season as head coach at Thurston High in Eugene.

“He does a good job,” Adelman says. “I’ve seen his team play three or four times.”

The three girls — Kathy, Laura and Caitlin — are in Portland.

Adelman says he is finally beginning to feel like a retired person. He’s on the first of a three-year contract as a consultant with the Timberwolves, but says that hasn’t occupied much of his time. Adelmen, who has dealt with Type 2 diabetes in recent years, he is spending more time exercising. Rick and Mary Kay own a vacation home in Black Butte and recently spent 10 days vacationing in Arizona, where he got out his golf clubs for the first time in more than a year.

“We want to travel some,” he says. “Now we have the time.”

While in Sacramento, the Adelmans bought the house in Dunthorpe, and it now has become home.

“It’s been great being back in Portland full time,” he says.

As a reporter who has always respected Adelman as a coach and enjoyed him as a person, I’d like to see two things happen.

The Blazers should stage a Rick Adelman Night during a game at the Moda Center. Introduce him, allow the fans to cheer for him, and reward him for the 14 years he spent with the franchise as a player and coach.

And Adelman should join his mentor, Ramsay, as a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame.

“I don’t think about that,” he says. “I wonder about some of the people who have been left out. Bill Fitch and Dick Motta aren’t in. George Karl? Doesn’t seem right.

“It would be an honor to get in, but I’m not concerned about it. I won’t feel incomplete if I don’t make it. I was very fortunate in my career. I had really good players and had some success. And the best place of all was Portland. It was a great run. I’m thankful.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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