MINNEAPOLIS - It's been nearly three months since Rick Adelman was named the 10th coach in Minnesota Timberwolves history, and Friday was the first time he had a chance to sit and talk with his new players.
For a young team with a new coach, the lockout was especially tough for Minnesota. Adelman coached against many of the same players the past few seasons, but even he didn't know what to expect when the Timberwolves opened practice officially Friday night.
"In my experience, you really don't know players until you get them on the court and you put them in situations that you want to see them in and you see what their skills are and everything else, and then get a chance to interact with them," Adelman said. "I think that's what our biggest challenge is going to be as a group, from the coaching staff to the players. We're all going to have to figure out a way to build trust here in a short period of time."
Adelman couldn't contact his players due to the lockout, and Friday's media day was his first chance to comment on his new group after agreeing to become Minnesota's coach on Sept. 13, 2011.
Adelman and the Houston Rockets decided to part ways after last season ended and his four-year contract expired. He begins his 21st NBA season in Minnesota with the eighth-most wins in league history and has taken three different teams to the playoffs in 16 of his 20 seasons. The playoffs are a far cry for the Timberwolves, who went 17-65 last season and haven't made the postseason since losing in the Western Conference finals in 2004.
Still, Adelman was interested in coaching a team with young, high draft picks such as Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams. Adelman compared Minnesota's development with what he experienced in Houston when he lost stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to injuries and ended up with another young team.
"Learning from that experience, the situation I had, I want to see can we turn this thing around?" Adelman said. "I don't know what's going to happen this first year with everything that's gone on, but I think we can build something where it's a positive and it's going forward. That kind of excites me.
"I just liked a lot of the young players they had. We're going to evaluate them and then we're going to make decisions."
Of course, Adelman knows one of his new players very well. Kevin Love - who led the Timberwolves with 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds per game last season and made his first all-star team - played with Adelman's son on the same Lake Oswego, Ore., high school team.
In between coaching stints with the Sacramento Kings and Rockets, Adelman saw nearly every game of Love's senior high school season.
"We're going to put him in situations where he's going to be a facilitator," Adelman said. "I told him - I did meet with him - there's no way he should average two or three assists a game. I'm sorry. That should be up. This whole team is that way, though. They've got to learn how to share the ball, make the extra pass."
With slick passing as the common thread, Adelman has already likened Love and Rubio to two key players on his winning Sacramento teams of the past. Friday he compared Love to center Vlade Divac and Rubio to point guard Jason Williams.
"He's got the court vision and the basketball IQ of a guy like Vlade Divac, who I had," Adelman said of Love. "He sees things on the court, and he makes the right play. Even in high school when he was a dominant guy, he still would make the right play, whether he had the opportunity, but the teammate was open. He'd do that. I think that's going to happen."
Rubio's uncanny passing is what made him a teenage sensation when he was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2009. The long wait for Rubio to make his NBA debut is almost over, and Adelman is interested to see what he has in the lanky Rubio.
"I know one thing, that he can really pass the ball," Adelman said. "He's got great instincts. He's interesting because sometimes he has a pretty easy pass and he'll go another direction and make the same pass but a lot harder. But he does it. He reminds me a lot in some ways; I had Jason Williams in Sacramento when he first came in. He was flashy, but he could pass the ball. He saw everything on the court, and that's what this kid does. He sees things."
Love is excited to see what Adelman can do for the young Timberwolves. Of the 19 players on the training camp roster, 14 have three years or fewer of NBA experience.
"He's proven that he can win with a different set of guys, with a different set of skill sets," Love said. "With him, it's all about a challenge. That's something that he mentioned throughout the meeting the other day that I had with him. We've just got to look at it as a challenge, and he does. I think he's ready for this, and I think we are too."
And Adelman understands what type of rebuilding he faces in Minnesota.
"Let's face facts here," Adelman said. "I'm not hiding anything. They won 17 games. Let's come to the realistic idea that things have to change. You can't go on saying, 'I don't want to do that.' I think these guys, if they really want to win and they really want to get better, then they all have to realize, get out of your comfort zone. Do things better in other areas that you've done to this point. Certainly, a guy like Michael and a guy like Kevin, those type of players who are your better players, when they do it, everybody will follow them."