Rick Adelman is back on the court and coaching basketball after three weeks away to help his wife through a health scare.
His Minnesota Timberwolves lost nine of 11 games without him to fall behind in the powerful Western Conference playoff race.
Adelman helped restore hope in this downtrodden franchise when he came aboard before last season. So the Timberwolves have missed him. In some ways, though, Adelman may need the Wolves as much as they need him.
Adelman ran practice Monday and said he planned to coach against the Clippers on Wednesday night if all is satisfactory with Mary Kay Adelman, who is being treated for an undisclosed condition. Adelman said he delayed his return until he felt it would be for good. He said his wife is improving and he hopes the worst is over.
"It's hard," Adelman said, referring to his absence. "I've never done this. It's never happened. But there's some things that are more important than basketball or anything else. I think the team understands that. Hopefully things will settle down here now."
Adelman declined to elaborate on his wife's problems Monday. The issue surfaced this month and required her to be hospitalized while doctors set a treatment plan. Adelman missed practice Jan. 7, then missed his first game Jan. 8, a home win over the Atlanta Hawks with assistant Terry Porter filling in.
Any hopes the team had of navigating the tricky path without their coach ended with a wave of injuries. There were long-term injuries to Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Josh Howard and Malcolm Lee, Recently, Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved sustained injuries that have kept them out for more than a week. Ricky Rubio is still working his way back from a torn ligament in his left knee last March.
A team that started the season with expectations of making the playoffs for the first time since 2004 is 17-24 — 12th place in the West. The Wolves have lost four straight, including a back-to-back on the road last weekend at Washington and Charlotte, where the Bobcats snapped a 16-game home losing streak.
Adelman has been in constant contact with his staff during his absence, speaking with Porter daily and with president of basketball operations David Kahn about possible roster moves. He returned for a brief meeting Jan. 16 to apprise his players of his situation and to give them a pep talk.
"We've got half the season left," Adelman said Monday. "Even though a lot of things have been thrown our way, life moves on. You've got to find a way to get yourself energized and focus on what you can do right now. Like I told the team, everybody's got to do a little bit more."
Pekovic and Shved returned to practice Monday and hope to be available Wednesday when the Wolves start a six-game homestand. Adelman's presence in practice gave the team a boost.
"It's already a big deal," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "You feel the positive emotions get back. You were feeling down, but now you feel everything getting back to normal."
Those who know Adelman well speak with fondness about his love for Mary Kay. The rare smiles seen on the curmudgeonly coach's face usually come before games she attends, when he looks for her in the stands and gives her a wave before pregame introductions.
"Obviously he's had a difficult time," said Porter, whose relationship with Adelman dates to the late 1980s when he was a point guard on Adelman's Portland teams. "For me, it was stepping in and doing the best I can to try to leave less stress on his plate, so to speak. It's part of my job too to be able to step up in there when it's called upon."
Getting back on the court appeared to be good therapy for Adelman. The basketball lifer returned to the routine he's had for decades, and his mood lightened when asked about the job Porter has done. He joked about a $2,000 fine Porter incurred for a recent technical foul.
"I'll take some of the other stuff," Adelman said. "But he's got to pay for his own technical."
Adelman has tried to keep his wife's situation private. Two of their sons also work for the team — R.J. in the front office, David on the coaching staff. Both remained at work while their father was away.
"They're looking better," Adelman said. "We're going to take it each day as it comes."
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