Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 1/24/12
MINNEAPOLIS -- For one man, it's no longer home. For the other, it hasn't yet become home. But for both, the Target Center on Monday night was a place of familiarity and a reminder of change, of how far a few years can take a man. Former Timberwolves general manager and coach Kevin McHale returned to Minnesota on Monday night for the first time as the Houston Rockets' head coach, leading his team to a 107-92 victory. With him, he brought a group that derives its identity largely from the man who coached it for the previous four years: Rick Adelman. It was a strange dynamic of handshakes-turned-hugs and a crowd booing a man who was once the darling of its state. There was an inherent emotion to it all, different for each coach and player, and though Adelman and McHale face two very different challenges this season, their short-term fates are at least for now entwined. It's hard to call this season a beginning for either coach; both have too deep a history with the game to ever really begin anything in the world of basketball. Instead, each is charged with the task of creating something: Adelman a team, and McHale an identity as a coach. Adelman has been coaching in the NBA since 1988. McHale spent portions of two seasons leading the Timberwolves. Adelman took over something that was less a team than a collection of players, a young group ready to become something. McHale inherited a version of what Adelman had created, a group of players that had been playing together for a few seasons. "I look at that roster now, and you've got about seven guys who have played together about three years now, so that's a big advantage," Adelman said of Houston. "They've added a couple of guys, and it's a solid team." When Adelman left Houston, many of his players expressed displeasure that management couldn't reach an agreement with their coach. Kevin Martin told the Houston Chronicle that his team had just lost one of the greatest coaches of all time, and Kyle Lowry said that Adelman leaving was disappointing. With reactions like that, McHale undoubtedly had something bigger to prove this season, and in many ways, he's still bearing that burden of trying to establish himself. Perhaps that's why he downplayed the emotion of Monday night's matchup. Sure, it's been three years since he sat on the home bench in Minneapolis, but that short of a time can't eradicate more than a decade of involvement with the team. McHale seemed torn before Monday's game, perched at ease on a table on the Target Center's sidelines and seeming to fight the reality of his comfort with the place. Conversely, Adelman, who claimed to feel no nostalgia when facing Sacramento last week -- he coached the Kings from 1999-2006 -- admitted that this matchup held extra meaning for him. Unlike McHale, he has relationships with many of the players on his former team, which made facing them more difficult in several ways. Not only does he like them, Adelman also knows how talented his former players are and how comfortably they work together. He knows it all too well; in many ways, he created that chemistry. Any advantage he might have from familiarity with the Rockets is countered by his knowledge of how much they are capable of. "Even though you know them, it doesn't always work out that you think you can control them, too," Adelman said. Once they start playing well, Adelman said, the Rockets are like any other team: difficult to stop. They proved that on Monday night, when they ended the game on a 42-22 run. And that run, his team's commanding win, also proved something for McHale: the Target Center is just another arena. "I've been in the arena a million different times," McHale said. "I've been here through good times and bad times." And though his stint as the Timberwolves coach in 2008-09 might fall into the latter category, there was one bright spot, a talented rookie whom McHale played a large part in acquiring. McHale was there on draft night in 2008, working out the details of a trade that brought Kevin Love from Memphis to Minnesota and ultimately laid the foundation for today's Timberwolves team, for its aspirations to be something more than a perennial loser. "He's the reason I'm here now," Love said. "He obviously made that trade on draft night from Memphis to here. I'm thankful for what he did for me, bringing me here and also working with me my rookie year, giving me an opportunity to succeed and take my game to the next level." And unlike the thousands of fans who booed McHale before Monday's game, Love had nothing but kind words to say about his former coach. Despite his team's 24-58 record that season, Love can remember the good, the moves he learned from McHale and the foundation that his former coach laid for his basketball career. When asked about Love, McHale was similarly gracious. Although there's little negative to be said about the forward's season so far, McHale was genuine in his praise. He called Love a world-class player, and he took little credit for the player he's become. He knew Love would be good, he said, but no one drafts a player expecting the kind of numbers that he's put up this season. And as true as that statement may be, McHale recognized something in Love that was worth pursuing. Without fully knowing it, he created the foundation around which a franchise can build, the seed of a change that Adelman is now beginning to truly harness. Despite the outcome of Monday's game, neither team has yet proved itself. The Rockets improved to 10-7, and the Timberwolves fell to 7-10, but neither team has found its identity yet. And though each coach will go on to leave a mark on his new team, for now, they're working with what others have left them: a superstar for one, and a cohesive group of solid players for the other. McHale may have the advantage for now, but it takes much longer than 17 games to create a legacy. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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