Tom Powers: Flip the coach, Flip the GM seeing eye to eye
For Flip Saunders, coaching the Timberwolves this season has all worked out. Kind of. "I will say this: From a guy that's in the management, me coaching is probably easier than having a coach," Saunders noted. "If I had a veteran coach, he'd be c...
For Flip Saunders, coaching the Timberwolves this season has all worked out.
“I will say this: From a guy that’s in the management, me coaching is probably easier than having a coach,” Saunders noted. “If I had a veteran coach, he’d be coming in every day wanting to trade everybody. They’re trying to win games. If I had a young coach, he’d be worrying about winning so he wouldn’t want to play the young guys. He’d be playing veterans, and the young guys wouldn’t get time.
“This way, we know where we want to go, we know what the vision is, so we’ve been able to stay with that vision. So my thing is, these next few games are going to be tough for us just because we’re trying to integrate everyone. But after we come back from the All-Star Game, hey, what do we really have? We’ll see at the end where that goes.”
As the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, head coach and part owner, Saunders isn’t going anywhere. If he has any complaints about the personnel, he just has to have a conversation with, well, himself.
“I do that,” he said with a straight face before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I did that right up there in the bathroom earlier.”
He’s holding up remarkably well. Saunders never intended to coach this season. After Rick Adelman decided to retire and Saunders couldn’t find a suitable replacement, he took over. His voice is a bit raspier than usual. Yet he’s bouncing around pretty well and professes to enjoy watching the younger players come along.
“I don’t even look at records,” he says.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the players,” Saunders continued. “Having been a CBA coach for seven years, I love working with players and trying to get them to improve.”
One of the sad byproducts of this disastrous season, and there have been many, is the end of Saunders’ playoff streak. In his seven full years as Minnesota’s coach, he had made the playoffs seven times. No other coach has taken the Wolves to the playoffs even once. Saunders is 7 for 7.
Obviously, they aren’t going to be in the playoffs this season. I asked Flip if he’d consider stepping down after 81 games, letting someone else coach the finale and thereby keeping his streak intact.
“Streaks are made to be broken,” he said with a laugh. “It’s very interesting, when you’re in the league for a while and you understand circumstances, you don’t worry about those things.”
Saunders talks about a vision, a vision he shares with Glen Taylor.
All coaches, general managers and players have visions for their teams, of course. Some are brought on by eating a doughnut too close to bedtime. Others by one too many tablespoons of cough syrup mixed with caffeine.
Yet everyone sees their team running and jumping and contending for a title.
Saunders is trying to rebuild, primarily around Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins. It’s just that the Timberwolves have attempted so many rebuilding projects in the past decade that many people have run out of patience. Attendance at Target Center is lousy. Only the most diehard fans can appreciate small steps at this point.
With Saunders running the whole show, however, he can afford to ignore the everyday ground noise and concentrate on the long term. The only thing that could change is that he might hire a different coach and concentrate on working from upstairs. As he pointed out earlier, though, another coach might not have the patience to stick with the development plan.
“That’s the number one reason why coaches and organizations go their separate ways,” he said. “There’s a difference from what management wants and what the coach wants.”
Considering the work still to be done, Saunders might reconsider his short-term approach to coaching and return to the bench next year.
“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about that,” he said.
Which is baloney and not really honest because, of course, he’s thought about it.
“We’ve gone through so many things,” he said. “Even though we get the heck beat out of us, our guys are coming with a pretty good attitude every day. So I don’t really know. When I took the job with Glen, we thought I’d stay in the job as long as it was moving in the vision that we wanted to.”
It’s moving. Sometimes at a speed not perceptible to the naked eye, but it’s moving.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service.