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The Case For Rick Adelman

In the wake of this disastrous season, one in which Coach Bob Hill is almost certain to be let go later this week or next, the time has come to review some possible candidates for his replacement. One of the most well-respected and successful NBA coaches currently unemployed is Rick Adelman, former Blazers and Kings head coach.

There are a number of roster and front office personnel decisions yet to be made which certainly would influence the choice of head coach, but if owner Clay Bennett decides to re-sign Rashard Lewis and retain both him and Ray Allen next year I believe Adelman would be a good choice as head coach.

Adelman’s record is both long and distinguished; in 16 seasons as a head coach he sports a winning percentage of .610 and a playoff record of 70-68, a record few of his peers can boast. His teams have made the playoffs 14 out of his 16 seasons and of those 14 playoff teams 7 have advanced to the second round or beyond. In the regular season his teams have won 50 or more games 9 times and 60 or more games twice (with 2 59 win seasons as well).

In terms of game style he is known for preferring an uptempo offense, which would would be a good fit for many of the players currently on the Sonic roster, in particular the current front line of Lewis, Wilcox, and Collison. The traditional knock on him has been that he’s a bit laissez-faire on defense, but some analysis shows that he’s actually had some pretty good defensive teams. In 2005-06 his last Kings team finished the season in the middle of the pack defensively; 13th out of 30 at 105.2 points per 100 possessions. That is an impressive feat considering that the Kings frontcourt was mostly comprised of players who are not defensive stalwarts except for Ron Artest – Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kenny Thomas to name a few. And the same is true before Artest arrived in Sacramento. From 1999 to 2003 the Kings consistently had above average defenses (again using points allowed per 100 possessions):

1999-00: 11th
2000-01: 7th
2001-02: 6th
2002-03: 2nd

And if we go further back to his salad days as head of the Drexler/Kersey/Terry Porter Portland Trailblazers, Adelman’s defensive credentials are even more impressive. In 6 seasons with the Blazers his teams had a top 5 defense every year until his final season, 1993-94. Had this year’s Sonics managed anything close to that level of defensive efficiency they would have been a completely different team.

The second criticism most often said of Adelman is that his teams lack killer instinct in playoff games; one of the most recent examples being the Game 7 loss to the Lakers a couple of years ago. But those with sharp memories may recall that the Kings essentially pissed that win away by missing key free throw and a failure to convert a 3-on-1 fast break very late in the game; something that clearly falls on the player’s shoulders. I will concede that Adelman perhaps should have handled Chris Webber’s return from injury differently as the Kings descent into the tank seemed to coincide with Webber’s return, but tell me what coach wouldn’t be playing his prime big guy as much as possible, never mind Webber’s massive salary?

There are other candidates who I would also support for the Sonics head coaching job next year for different reasons and presuming certain roster moves were made, but as of right now there is no one candidate as seasoned or as fit for this current roster and style of play as Rick Adelman. When Clay Bennett and Lenny Wilkens meet to discuss possible staff changes later this week, there is no reason why Adelman’s name shouldn’t come up. He still retains a house in Portland, reportedly loves living in the Pacific Northwest, and was recently quoted as saying that the Sonics job was one that held some interest for him.

“As far as coaching, there are very few jobs I would really be interested in,” said Adelman, whose son currently is an advance scout for the Sonics. “There are very few coaching jobs I would consider. I think I can do a good job. I did a good job in Sacramento and things changed for whatever reason. But if the right job came along, I would definitely be interested in it.”

As Frank Hughes points out in his article, the culture of the team would have to change somewhat, with tough veterans brought in to provide some leadership, but I think that's something that needs to be done no matter who the coach is next season, even if by some miracle Hill is retained. And there is no perfect candidate for the job; even highly sought after up-and-coming candidates like Marc Iavoroni are, after all, unproven. But I believe if the team decides it doesn't want to part with one of Ray Allen or Rashard Lewis for whatever reason that they could do far worse for head coaching candidates than Rick Adelman.