NBA: ‘Best scenario’ leads Wolves' Saunders back to bench
MINNEAPOLIS — When Flip Saunders was hired a year ago as Timberwolves president of basketball operations, he was handed a commemorative print of him coaching Chauncey Billups and Kevin Garnett.
Inscribed on the print was “638 wins,” Saunders’ career mark as an NBA coach. That includes 411 with the Timberwolves, a team record.
“I looked at that and at no time did I have any intention that I was going to coach (again),” Saunders said Friday as he was reintroduced as the Timberwolves coach.
Yet when Rick Adelman stepped down in April, with a year left on his deal, Saunders didn’t rule out returning to the bench. All the while, owner Glen Taylor repeatedly stated his desire for Saunders to find another coach.
But after interviewing several candidates over six-plus weeks, including former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, Taylor gave in.
“The best scenario that we came up with was that Flip should take on that added responsibility,” he said.
Saunders, 59, will assume a rare position of authority in the NBA — coach, president and minority owner. Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers, Stan Van Gundy in Detroit and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio are some of the few with coaching and executive authority.
“He’s someone that I trust and have a great deal of confidence in,” Taylor said. “So I’m confident that this is the right decision at this particular time.”
The timing is complicated by the uncertain future of the franchise’s star player, Kevin Love, who can opt out of the final year of his contract in July 2015. Saunders, however, said his decision to coach “did not take into consideration what kind of impact it would have on any of our players.”
Asked if Love has been asked for his feedback, Saunders said, “I’ll reach out to players probably over the next week or so,” adding that he wants to steer the franchise in the direction of a team concept and not one player.
Other unknowns include how long Saunders will be on the sideline.
“We talked about this, and we said we’d go through this year and then re-evaluate it at the end of the year and see where we’re at,” Saunders said.
Taylor said the team needed a coach before the June 26 draft. Saunders said he wants “veteran” assistants, but will not designate any as a likely successor.
“I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re going to anoint anybody as a coach-in-waiting,” he said. “Because, one, it wouldn’t be fair to them. Everyone, no matter who it is, wants to earn their stripes.”
Saunders said his “passion” has driven him back to the sideline.
“I took this because I think we are going to be successful,” he said.
Saunders will need to rely on Milt Newton, general manager, and Rob Babcock, vice president of basketball operations, for more front office assistance.
“He has some seasoned people on the staff there, and we’ll be able to continue to run that under Flip’s leadership,” Taylor said.
Newton was vice president of player personnel in Washington when Saunders was coach of the Wizards (2008-11) and joined the Wolves last offseason.
“He’s going to have to wear both hats,” Newton said. “But a little different because coaches think of the here and now, and management thinks of the here and now and the future.”
Someone that figures in the Wolves’ future is center Gorgui Dieng. Although Saunders was in the front office last season, he sometimes worked out with Dieng during his rookie season a year ago.
“I know he is very tough and is always looking for improvement,” Dieng said, “so I think we are very excited to have him as a head coach.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.