MINNEAPOLIS Nearing the end of a trying season, his 22nd in the NBA, Rick Adelman never thought his journey to 1,000 wins would unfold quite this way.
Adelman, who started 2012-13 with 971 career victories as an NBA head coach, finally had his Minnesota Timberwolves set up the way he wanted. Holdovers Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were joined by Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and rookie Alexey Shved. Designs were on making the postseason in Minnesota for the first time since 2004 and ending the longest current playoff drought in the NBA.
Injuries then hit his team quickly and persistently, but Adelman finally got to 1,000 Saturday night -- in the 76th game of the year -- with a 107-101 victory against the Detroit Pistons.
The milestone is only slightly more memorable than the obstacles along the way. Love, the All-Star forward, has been limited to 18 games because of hand injury. Roy lasted only five games with his troublesome knees. Budinger, the outside shooter so perfect for Adelman's system, has played in just 17 games because of a knee injury.
And all of that paled in comparison to the real struggle for Adelman in January, when his wife, Mary Kay, was hospitalized after having seizures. Adelman missed 11 games to be with her. Yet, through everything, and with Mary Kay improving and in attendance, Adelman earned his honor in becoming the eighth coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins.
The coach will say the achievement isn't important to him. He has told reporters his most important win was his first, a 124-102 victory against Miami on Feb. 26, 1989 with the Portland Trail Blazers. He will instead say he is proud of his current club for strongly finishing off this season, another disappointment in a long line of them for Minnesota. The Timberwolves have won six of their last nine games, including victories against Oklahoma City, Boston and on the road at Milwaukee.
Adelman will say he's proud of his team. Saturday, his players returned the compliment, honoring their coach with win No. 1,000. The best way they can recognize Adelman's persistence is playing hard through the end, such as they did Saturday. A night earlier, Minnesota lost a late lead to the Toronto Raptors. This time, the Timberwolves -- now 29-47 and far out of the playoff chase -- finished the job.
Fellow coaches, such as Detroit's Lawrence Frank, say Adelman is the most underrated coach in NBA history. The quiet 66-year-pold certainly doesn't exude the bravado that could come with his amazing numbers.
In his 22 seasons, Adelman's teams have reached the playoffs 18 times. In his fifth coaching stop in the NBA, the Timberwolves are about to make it 0 for 2 in postseason berths. Adelman has been to the conference finals four times and twice made the NBA finals but is still missing that elusive championship.
In reaching 1,000 wins Saturday, he became the fifth-fastest coach to reach the mark in terms of games coached -- only Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and George Karl have achieved the total quicker. He owns a .587 career winning percentage.
That winning percentage has taken a hit in two injury-filled seasons in Minnesota. But Adelman is still going, plugging along with a team he enjoys. So much so, that maybe he'll keep the run going with his current contract scheduled to tie him to the Timberwolves through the 2014-15 season. And maybe he can finally have the complete team he's wanted all season and add to his historic totals.
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