NBA: Timberwolves' Saunders makes best of bad situation
By Tom Powers
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Listen closely and you can hear the theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
Flip Saunders is old enough to remember that TV show. And it’s no surprise that he has decided to return to the bench and coach the Timberwolves himself. At this point, there’s nobody out there worth a long-term commitment, so he’ll take over on an interim basis until he hits the reset button and begins a new coaching search for 2015-16.
It’s a logical, positive move. Still, I’d like to have been in the room during the contract negotiations.
Flip: This is just a one-year deal so we aren’t paying much. Besides, you’re rusty.
Flip: You came to me, remember? I didn’t want the job. And what are you going to do about Kevin Love?
Flip: Now that I have a coach, I’m going to get busy on that.
Flip: Keep me in the loop.
Flip: Who is buying?
Saunders had been saying right along that he needed to hire a coach before concentrating full time on the Love situation; now he has a coach who very likely will agree with him on whatever decision he makes there. And if the coach and president of basketball operations wind up at odds on this issue, psychiatrists may need to get involved.
Obviously, what Flip needs to do is to trade Love for whatever he can get and move on and wait for the next great tragedy to befall the organization.
This is a good move for reasons other than nostalgia, although it will be popular because of Saunders’ history as a coach. After all, the Wolves had their last bit of success a decade ago with him on the bench. They went to the conference finals. It was the eighth straight year the team had reached the playoffs with Saunders as coach, but the first time they made it past the first round.
With the team sporting a 25-26 record about two-thirds into the following season, Kevin McHale, who had been motoring along nicely in the front office, went off the rails and fired Saunders. McHale and the team never did get back on track.
Incidentally, I thought McHale made a similarly bad move a couple of years later when he fired Dwane Casey, who had the team at .500 despite an absolutely toxic atmosphere in the locker room. That was during Kevin Garnett’s last season here, and there were more cliques and factions than in a junior high cafeteria.
Anyway, people still associate Flip with that long-ago achievement and will welcome his return to coaching, even if it’s only for a short while. And this really is just a short-term fix. I supposed there is a danger that the Wolves have (for them) moderate success next season and then he gets a little nutty and decides to keep both jobs. But that never works. He likely knows that.
While he’s traveling around the league as a coach, he’ll also be in the best position to scout for his successor. The team needs a young, vibrant leader. Not old and vibrant (Rick Adelman) or young and dispirited (Kurt Rambis).
My guess is that during the negotiations, Flip had to talk Flip into taking the job. I’m almost positive he doesn’t want to do it. Yet at this point it really is the best alternative for the organization. And as yet another bonus, he’ll be able to evaluate his personnel on a daily basis — at all practices and in huddles during time outs and in even hotel coffee shops.
He also won’t get to see college games or other pro games to evaluate possible additional talent. But the pluses outweigh the minuses. So after one year in the front office, he’s doubling up and wandering back down to the bench.
And Timberwolves fans will sing John Sebastian’s refrain: “And what could ever lead you, back here where we need you?
“Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
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