There's a race car out there just waiting for Rick Adelman to hop on in, one with parts that don't break down every few miles and a windshield without so many cracks in it.
His status as one of the NBA's best coaches doesn't change with his Monday departure from Houston, the mutual decision to part ways with the Rockets coming after four years in which the agreed-on road map just never went where it had promised. This was the outcome his closest friends saw coming last summer, when the unexpected detours kept coming and Adelman was left looking for the nearest exit.
Yao Ming was almost never healthy. Ditto for Tracy McGrady up until he was traded as a shell of himself in Feb. 2010. A supposed championship story became a hoops version of the Little Engine That Could, and Adelman's ability to keep his injury-plagued teams competitive throughout did little to quell the growing frustrations of a coach who is eighth all-time in wins (945) and who made it clear recently that he isn't done just yet.
The acknowledged disconnect between Adelman and the Rockets' front office had far more to do with this than the two straight playoff-less seasons, their dynamic unfolding into a classic case of old school vs. new school. Houston general manager Daryl Morey, an MIT grad in his late 30s who remains the face of the league's advanced statistics movement, hardly had a receptive ear on analytical matters when it came to the old-school, 64-year-old Adelman. There were philosophical differences galore, a perceived resentment on the part of the lifelong basketball man that he wasn't consulted more when it came to matters that were so integral to the team; a realization on the other side that the skeptical Adelman could never be counted on to be first in line at the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that has become the trademark event of the game's statistical evolution.
Now, though, it's all water under that bridge they just crossed. And while his exodus doesn't change his stature in his professional community, the coaching landscape up ahead is immeasurably different because of it.
Before this move was made, one coaching industry expert agreed with my assertion that Adelman would be one of the few game-changers should he not sign a new contract with the Rockets. He is, in direct contrast to most of -- if not all -- the names listed below, the kind of coach with the sort of track record that just might inspire an owner to push out the incumbent despite the many concerns about how a likely lockout comes into play.
Jeff Van Gundy also qualifies in that category, but Adelman's predecessor has given no indication he's ready to leave the analyst's chair. His brother and Orlando coach, Stan, could have serious sway as well, but his current job continues with his job security believed to be firmly connected to the Magic's latest postseason plight. From there, the likes of former Cleveland coach Mike Brown, former Minnesota coach Dwane Casey (now a Dallas assistant), former Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, former New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank (now a Boston assistant), television analyst Mark Jackson and assistants like San Antonio's Mike Budenholzer and New Orleans' Mike Malone are expected to draw the most interest.
None of them has Adelman's unique background or cachet, especially considering what his Rockets experience did to cement some long-standing theories about his sideline abilities after his time in Portland and Sacramento (Golden State remains the forgotten stop on his tour). His offensive mind and ability to handle difficult personalities is as good as advertised, and the fact that he has a sometimes-prickly personality of his own has done little to dissuade his players from remaining supportive.
"When I was there we played the majority of the time without Tracy and Yao and he still got it done," New Orleans' fourth-year forward Carl Landry, who played for Adelman for the first two-plus seasons of his career, said by phone on Monday. "Just think if you gave him the team that was healthy for pretty much the whole season. He was respected throughout the league, not only by me. Players around the league respect him."
Memphis small forward Shane Battier, who spent nearly four seasons under Adelman before he was traded to Memphis in February, concurred with Landry via e-mail.
"I don't think there was ever a player that played for coach Adelman that had a negative experience," he wrote. "He is one of the few coaches that gives you ownership of the team, a rare trait in today's coaches. He did an amazing job with an often understaffed team during my years in Houston and continued to prove that he was a Hall of Fame coach."
Morey was equally positive in his team-released statement as well.
"It has been a privilege and an honor to work with and learn from Rick during these past four years," Morey said. "He is a Hall of Fame coach who earned the respect and admiration of our entire organization during his time here. These situations are always difficult, but we would like to personally thank Rick and his staff for their efforts the past four seasons and we wish them the best in their future pursuits."
The Rockets are expected to conduct an open coaching search, with Adelman assistants Elston Turner and Jack Sikma leading the way. They headed a Rockets bench that also included longtime Adelman assistant T.R. Dunn, Adelman's son, R.J. and respected scout/assistant Pat Zipfel.
"Them dudes can all be head coaches somewhere in this league," Landry said of the staff. "They were so good."
None come close to Adelman, though. And make no mistake, he'll be driving players again before long.