After spending the past few weeks searching for a new coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, hometown favorite and current Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has decided to take the position himself. The search for a coach has additional ramifications than just finding a leader who can finally lead the Wolves to the championships; the coach hired was seen as an important factor in whether All-Star forward Kevin Love would decide to stay with the team or if he will choose to opt out of his contract after the coming season. The word coming out of Minnesota after the announcement today is that Saunders becoming coach had nothing whatsoever to do with an attempt to keep Love. If Love was even considered when the decision was made, it is more than likely that the team made the move in order to better position themselves when trading Love. Saunders himself stated in an interview today that “probably” 16 teams have contacted the Wolves regarding a trade for Love, but that the Wolves have not contacted any team themselves, indicating that they would still like to keep Love in the den.
A solid hire for the new coach is of utmost importance for a team that has spent much of the past decade rebuilding. Saunders was coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves team that went to the 2004 conference finals with their rookie-turned-superstar power forward, Kevin Garnett, who was later dealt to the Boston Celtics, where he won the NBA Championship in 2008. During his prior tenure as the Wolves head coach from 1995-2005, he led the team to the playoffs for eight straight years, which remain the only playoff appearances in the Wolves’ franchise history. After being fired from the Wolves in 2005, Saunders was hired by the Detroit Pistons, where he coached until 2008. The Pistons made the playoffs before losing in the conference finals each of the three years that Saunders was there. After being fired by the Pistons, he coached the Washington Wizards until his firing in 2012. He moved to Boston as an advisor to the Celtics organization shortly thereafter until 2013, when he returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves as president of basketball operations. Saunders ended his NBA coaching career with a record of 685-577, which includes playoff appearances.
Wolves fans are still smarting over the loss of Garnett in what is now seen as an uneven and worthless trade with the Celtics, which makes the recent activities of Kevin Love raise the collective guard of Minnesota basketball fans. Love spent some well-publicized time in Boston recently, where he attended a Red Sox game and hit the bars. Adding fuel to the fire in Wolves fans’ guts is the tweet sent to Love by Red Sox icon David Ortiz that said, “Yo @kevinlove if you need advice on moving from Minnesota to Boston just let me know #CityOfChamps.” Ortiz began his baseball career as a Minnesota Twin before ending up with the Boston Red Sox and enjoying an incredibly successful career and idol status in Boston, not to mention three World Series and one World Series MVP Award.
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was previously adamant about not allowing Saunders to be both coach and head of basketball operations. At the start of the coach search, Saunders went after Jeff Van Gundy first. Saunders said on Thursday that he felt as though Van Gundy was the “best coach out there” and that he would fit in well with the Wolves organization. Saunders spoke to Van Gundy this morning and said that Van Gundy confessed to him that the reason he did not decide to coach the Wolves was because he “felt [Flip was] the right guy for the job” and not him. After meeting with Taylor on Tuesday and speaking with advisors, it appears that the Wolves and Saunders are in agreement.
By Jennifer Pfalz