We tend to give Rick Adelman a hard time. The whole "Coach Sleepy" and "hibernation" stuff is well-documented around these parts. I've been in the midst of coming up with a dance for him as well. If you want to "do the Adelman," you simply open your eyes as wide as possible, slightly open your mouth, and lift up your arms and shoulders in disbelief, as demonstrated in the photo above. Repeat this process in uneven spurts for full effect.
But, as the saying goes, sometimes you make fun of a person because you like them. Or something like that.
I realize that Rick's best years were with Portland and Sacramento. That's where he built his reputation as one of the premier offensive minds that the game has ever seen. He led the Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals births, and after making a quick pit stop in Golden State, he landed in Sacramento, nearly leading the Kings to the Finals in 2000 (you can actually, for once, blame the refs for that one). And then he came to Houston, somehow slipping through the cracks, and led the Rockets to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in ten years. Most likely, though, Adelman will be remembered for those off-the-wall Kings teams led by Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, and Vlade Divac.
But it can't be said enough: the work that Adelman has done in Houston has been absolutely remarkable. I've never seen a team get so much out of its players as the Rockets have in the past few seasons. Guys like Von Wafer and Chuck Hayes - somehow, Adelman managed to win games against favorable opponents with these sort of people in the starting lineup. Whenever T-Mac or Yao went down, you could probably count the Rockets out of the NBA Finals. But you couldn't go to sleep on them on any given night, because they might just out hustle you to lose balls, grab a ton of offensive rebounds, and make you look silly in general. Perhaps the Rockets weren't the most talented team at times, but they were certainly the most competitive. Ask the Lakers just how easy it was to put away the Yao-less/McGrady-less Rockets during last year's playoffs.
If you didn't manage to read my conversation with Jonathan Feigen this summer, you'll want to take a look at it, if only because Feigen provides some great analysis on Adelman and just how competitive a person he is.
One of the thing's that is not understood about Rick Adelman, because he sort of has this image of being laid back, is that the guy is incredibly competitive. He's just a competitive guy - as much as any coach you'll ever be around, this guy is really competitive about winning games. (...) He'll choose what he needs to say most. The players do get the feeling that he's super-competitive. (...) Because of that, and because of who the owner is, and because of who the individuals on the team are, we're trying to win. And there's not any unwritten rule that because you want to develop your players for another season, you can't win. You don't have to be that way - there's the off-season [for development]. Rick couldn't stand being that way. It would eat him up a lot to try to not win the game. He's just so much about both. So, there totally about seeing how many games they can win and how far it can take them.
It was a dumb question on my part, asking if the Rockets would rather develop players than win this season. Of course they wanted to win. But what's particularly impressive about the Rockets' 2009-2010 campaign is that they managed to kill two birds with one stone. They're going to finish around .500, better than most expected, and at the same time, they managed to develop guys like Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Jermaine Taylor without sacrificing wins. It's pretty amazing if you think about it.
Shoving wins aside for a second, I have to say that one of Adelman's premier accomplishments in Houston has been his development of rookies. And I'm not just talking about this season. Remember, he turned Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry into All-Star caliber players in just three years - how often can you say that of late first-round or early second-round picks?
Rarely will you see a coach as versatile as Adelman. He can take nearly anyone and plug him into an offense and make it work. As Feigen noted in the interview, contrary to popular perception, Rick doesn't have some specific offense that he runs the same way over and over again. Its genius is in his flexibility.
And you know, I'll just do my little rant here, the whole "Rick Adelman offense" or "Rick Adelman system" thing has been so mis-described, or inappropriately used, during his time in Houston. His offense is what makes sense for the players he's got. His offense using Yao Ming is very different from his other post offense in Sacramento because he's got Yao Ming! Yeah, David Andersen will fit well, because they'll do what David Andersen does. And if David Andersen is a really good low-post player, they'll do that. I mean, Rick goes on this rant for a lot longer than I do. Although, the one thing I got him to admit one time in Dallas when we were talking is that [Feigen asks Adelman], "Yeah, the stuff you did in Sacramento is still part of your offense," and he said, "Well, yeah." So I'll live with that.
On that note, take a look at TrueHoop today. You'll see this article, inspired by a Daryl Morey tweet saying that the Rockets are the best team not to have a single All-Star player in uniform. It's true - nobody on the roster has ever made the All-Star team. Chalk up another 'W' for Coach Adelman.
This sounds like a eulogy of sorts, but it's not. Rather, it's a brief celebration of Adelman's career up to this point. There's not another person I would choose to coach the Rockets than Rick, and I truly mean that, even if guys like Phil Jackson became available. Rick is a class act, a future hall of famer, and most importantly, is a phenomenal teacher of the game - you're a better player after being coached by Rick Adelman, even for just one season.
So congratulations, Coach. 900 wins isn't something you come across every day.