Column: Relationships, New And Old, About To Pave Wolves' Future

Column: Relationships, New And Old, About To Pave Wolves' Future

There was nostalgia floating in the air at Target Center on Friday as Flip Saunders was introduced as the Timberwolves’ new President of Basketball Operations. It was a day filled with stories, memories, retracing steps of old partnerships and friendships of the past.

One of the first stories Saunders told on Friday was how he arrived in Minnesota 40 years ago to join the Gophers as a skinny 18-year-old from Ohio, noting media mainstays Sid Hartman, Patrick Reusse, Charley Walters and Bob Sansevere might have questioned whether or not he had game. Forty years later, all four were present for Saunders’ press conference on Friday in Minneapolis.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor had his own memories he shared. When Taylor purchased the team in 1995, he said one of the first people to write him a letter was a young man named Flip Saunders, then working with the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the Continental Basketball Association who wanted to touch base and let Taylor know he was interested in joining the organization if there was a position available. The two met in Mankato, and over the course of that conversation Saunders laid the ground work for what would turn into Taylor offering him the general manager position with the team. He’d go on to coach the Wolves for a decade and lead the team to their most successful seasons in team history.

And like that first meeting initially landed him a job with the Wolves, his first stint in Minnesota paved the way for him to return as President of Basketball Operations and a limited ownership partner this year.

The common thread throughout Friday was relationships—ones that have developed and grown over time that helped pave the way for the future.

“It’s interesting because I never feel whenever I leave that I try to burn bridges, because I look at the positives,” Saunders said. “Would I envision I’d be back here in the position I’m in? Probably not. But what was different was when I left, when I went through the mourning period, Glen and I talked and we still shared a lot of the same philosophies. So over the last five years would I think it would never happen? No, I thought it could be a possibility with the relationship we have.”

You can tell Taylor believes in Flip. He believes in him because the two have been through a lot together in the past, and Saunders was a big contributing factor in the success the Wolves had under his leadership from 1995-2005. The franchise hasn’t come close to that level of success before or after him in their 24-year history.

And Taylor admitted during Friday’s news conference while he’s made a lot of successful moves during his business career, one mistake he might have made was agreeing to dismiss Saunders of his duties as coach back in 2005. Since then, the Wolves haven’t reached the postseason while Saunders went to three conference finals with the Pistons.

“But in the mean time, Flip has gone out and stayed in the NBA, coached for some other teams, seen some other organizations, seen some other systems and I think that has added great value to his experience,” Taylor said. “With all that experience in the league I just think that he can bring that as part of his overall philosophy back to our organization and make it a better organization.”

As we stand, the Wolves will be moving forward with a familiar face as their President of Basketball Operations—a man with a proven track record of winning here in Minnesota and someone who does have the respect and support of much of the fan base. They have an owner whose steadfast commitment to keeping the team in Minnesota has led to him holding onto the team for the foreseeable future, and they have a head coach with 1,002 career wins and the unequivocal respect of his players, coaching staff and the rest of the league.

Relationships led to this partnership coming together heading into this offseason, and relationships will ultimately lead to this partnership working and creating a successful environment moving forward. Saunders himself noted he and Adelman have a combined 1,600-plus wins in the NBA together as head coaches. Now, Saunders has the opportunity to transition into that executive role and make an impact in a different aspect of the game.

He’ll need to work closely with Adelman on personnel decisions, and the two of them will need to work closely together with Taylor to ensure they’re in the best position to make moves during a crucial, crucial offseason that includes a major restricted free agent decision in Nikola Pekovic, an important unrestricted free agent decision in Chase Budinger, a player option for Andrei Kirilenko and two first-round draft picks.

Saunders said in his past stint with Minnesota, open dialogue was crucial in making decisions. Now, he, Taylor and Adelman have the chance to really do something special with a core group in place that can be successful in this league with the right rotation pieces and a little touch of health.

To maximize this team’s future, it’s important that new and already existing relationships flourish moving forward. It’s going to be the blueprint of how well the team does in the years to come.

This group has what it takes to put together a successful product. It’s time to put these relationships to work and produce a winner next season.

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