- kerry eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
On the NBA • Rick Adelman's statistics speak for themselves, as does a 20-game streak
Quickie quiz: Name the top 15 coaches of all time in the NBA. You probably thought of Red Auerbach and Pat Riley and Larry Brown and Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan and Jack Ramsay.
If you mentioned Rick Adelman, you're in the minority.
But the former Trail Blazer guard and coach and current Portland resident belongs.
Adelman ranks 13th on the NBA career regular-season victories list with 795 in his 17 years as a head coach, trailing only Don Nelson, Riley, Jackson, Sloan and George Karl among active coaches.
Adelman is 10th in winning percentage (.613) and ranks 11th in playoff triumphs (70), having taken Portland twice to the NBA finals. If not for a few lamentable referees' calls in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, his Sacramento Kings would have made the finals in 2002.
Except for his two forgettable seasons with Golden State, Adelman's teams have made the postseason every year.
Now in his first season with Houston, Adelman, 61, has put together one of the most astounding runs in NBA history. The Rockets (44-20) take a 20-game win streak into tonight's game at Charlotte - tied with the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks for second-longest in league history.
Only the Lakers' legendary 33-game skein in 1971-72 is longer.
Houston hasn't lost since a 97-89 defeat by Utah on Jan. 27. The Rockets are 29-4 since the start of the calendar year.
What's more, Houston has won its last eight games without the services of All-Star center Yao Ming, who was lost for the season when he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot Feb. 24.
'Rick is doing a great job, but I don't hear anybody extolling his virtues around the league,' says Ramsay, a mentor of Adelman's who will serve as radio analyst for ESPN radio's Sunday showdown between the Rockets and the Lakers at the Toyota Center.
Nor is anybody talking about Adelman's career as Hall of Fame-worthy. But it is.
'Rick has had a Hall of Fame career without one word of self-praise or looking for any attention,' says Ramsay, 83, who gave Adelman his first NBA coaching opportunity as a member of his Portland staff in 1983 out of Salem's Chemeketa Community College. 'He just goes about doing his work.
'But this has been typical Rick. Everywhere he's been, he's under the radar. He's not a guy who attracts attention to himself in anything. During a game he sits there and does what he needs to do for the team without making any fuss.'
The leading candidate for coach of the year going into the final five weeks of the regular season, Adelman never has won the award.
'My dad has always been underrated as a coach, but I don't think he cares,' says R.J. Adelman, Rick's oldest son and the junior member of the Houston coaching staff. 'Part of that may be because he's coached in small markets, and part of it is his personality. He has always deflected the praise and takes on the criticisms. He protects his players and doesn't care about attention. He just does his job.'
Adelman is no stranger to streaks during his NBA coaching career. The Blazers won 16 in a row late in the 1990-91 season and started that season 11-0 and 19-1. His 2001-02 Sacramento squad ran off streaks of 12 and 11 victories.
But Houston's current streak is special, and not just because it's longer than the others.
'When you win like this and you see the players respond the way they've responded, it's a lot of fun,' says Adelman, who was an original Blazer player (1970-73), assisted Ramsay and Mike Schuler (1983-89), and served as head coach with Portland (1989-94). 'More than anything, it's been so satisfying to see these guys and the way they've embraced (the streak). They've done a great job of being proud of it but not getting caught up in it.
'You need to keep building on it and take advantage of the momentum, because what counts in the end is what you do in the playoffs. You don't look backward at it; you look forward.'
Adelman bristles at the suggestion that the streak is tainted by a soft schedule with only six road games.
'If it's so easy,' he says, 'why have only two teams in history been able to match it?'
It's not easy, especially when a team loses All-Star swing man Tracy McGrady to a leg injury for 11 games in December and January and now is without the 7-6 Yao for the final two months of the season. Adelman has adjusted from a post-up offense to one utilizing McGrady's talents on the pick-and-roll.
When Yao was lost, 'like everybody, I thought it was going to be really difficult for us to continue to win,' Adelman admits. 'I thought we could win, but against the better teams … we don't really have a true low-post player now.
'It was going to take a change of the way we played. Our guys have continued to play at a high level. People have stepped in and taken up the slack.'
Team fills the Yao gap
McGrady has stepped up his game since Yao left the lineup, averaging 24.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists compared with 20.8, 4.8 and 6.2 for the season. Rookie forwards Luis Scola of Argentina and Carl Landry - a second-round draft pick out of Purdue - have made major contributions along with point guard Rafer Alston and defensive specialist Shane Battier.
'We've had to adapt,' R.J. Adelman says. 'The players are good defensively and are very attentive in terms of following a game plan. It's fun in that regard.
'Offensively, my dad has had to experiment with a lot of things to find out what works. For this group right now, it's rolling.'
After being fired by Sacramento following the 2005-06 season, Adelman sat out last year, living at his Portland home while watching his children coach (David with the Lincoln High boys and Kathy with the Jesuit girls). It didn't take long for him to get the itch to return to coaching, and when the Rockets beckoned, it was a good fit.
Adelman has kept his players on an even emotional keel through the current streak.
'You have to deal with every situation you're faced with,' he says. 'With my experience through all these years, I'm not going to panic about it. I've had a lot of teams that have lost players and still won. If you don't approach it that way as a coach, the players won't believe.
'I really believed we could still win. We have players who have gotten better through the year. You can't get too caught up with yourself when you win, or too down when you lose. Just stay with it. We're winning, and we have to enjoy it, but also understand the hardest thing to do is continue at a high level. This team has learned how to win, but I know we're going to have some bumps in the road.'
Coach knows how to connect
One of Adelman's strengths through his coaching career has been in getting the most out of his relationship with star and/or troubled players, including Clyde Drexler (Drexler and Schuler were oil and water), Rod Strickland, Latrell Sprewell, Chris Webber, Ron Artest and Bonzi Wells.
'Everywhere he's been, the players like him and they play the game the way he wants it to be played,' Ramsay says. 'Nobody seems to have a problem playing for Rick Adelman, and they play well. Many of them have the best years of their career playing for him. Now he's doing it again in Houston.'
Coach of the Year? Hall of Fame? What Adelman wants now is the first championship ring of his NBA coaching career.
'I don't see any reason why we can't (win a title), but it's going to be hard,' he says. 'We're going without one of our best players. Our schedule gets more difficult. This time of the year in the Western Conference, it's like starting the playoffs with a month left. Lose three or four games in a row and you can drop (in the West standings) in a hurry.
'We have to make the playoffs and get out of the first round first. But when we were 13-15 (in mid-December), nobody would've said we'd be where we are at this point in the season.'