The #NewsBrothers | Flip's Back... What Does That Mean?
In the second #NewsBrothers column, Mark and Kyle break down the hiring of Flip Saunders as head coach of the Wolves
The Timberwolves announced on June 6 that President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders will take over the head coaching duties vacated by Rick Adelman’s retirement this offseason. Saunders is a decorated coach, who got his first opportunity on the bench with the Timberwolves back in 1995-96. He spent 10 years with the Wolves on the bench, guiding them to eight straight playoff appearances (the only eight in team history), including the 2003-04 run to the Western Conference Finals. During his coaching career, he racked up 638 wins in Minnesota, Detroit and Washington, 11 playoff appearances and four trips to the conference finals. He is tied with Chuck Daly for the 20th most wins all-time in NBA coaching history.
Timberwolves.com’s #NewsBrothers duo of Mark Remme and Kyle Ratke broke down three big questions surrounding Saunders’ move from the front office back to the bench. With one big piece of the Wolves’ puzzle in place, the next step is figuring out the Wolves’ draft situation and what moves might be made through trades and free agency.
Were you surprised Flip Saunders was named the Timberwolves’ next head coach?
Remme says: After coach Rick Adelman’s retirement press conference, Flip did make the comment to “never say never” when dealing with situations like the Wolves’ coaching vacancy, meaning anything could happen. So I’m not surprised that Minnesota will move forward with Flip back on the bench. He’s the most accomplished coach in team history, and his stops in Minnesota and Detroit exemplify the type of job he can do getting a team into the playoffs. That’s the first goal for this franchise, who will have a decade drought going heading into next season. And when it comes to occupying the head coach and President of Basketball Operations positions at the same time, I wasn’t surprised by him taking the initiative to do both, either. We saw Stan Van Gundy take over both spots in Detroit this offseason, and this will be the exact same scenario here in Minnesota. Flip knows basketball, understands the direction the team is trying to head and is one of the most experienced coaches that Minnesota had the choice of hiring. He’s been active in the team’s draft workouts the past two years, and I think he’s the perfect example of once a coach, always a coach.
Ratke says: If this were to be the decision made a month ago, yeah, I would have been surprised. But the way this whole process has folded out, I’m not surprised at all. Coaching searches are tough. There are names flying around Rumor City and how many are actually realistic options? Could I have reported that Chuck Diddleton was interviewing and was instantly a serious candidate? Probably. People on Twitter eat that stuff up like Bryant McKinnie at an Old Country Buffet.
What I will say is that this isn’t NBA2K14. You can’t pick coaches and players you want, hand them an offer and they automatically accept. (I played that game for five hours the other night. I won 14 titles in a row. So yeah, if Milt needs any help during this draft process, I’ll be at my desk. Just kidding. But seriously, Milt. I’ll be at my desk. Text me.)
Flip said his biggest concern was getting a coach with winning experience. Saunders has won 638 NBA games and the guy made the playoffs 11 times. I’d say he fits the criteria. Depending on what happens with the Kevin Love situation, this could be a one-year buffer period. I’m not sure if it’s a long-term fix, but then again, what is?
It’s probably not what Saunders envisioned when Rick Adelman stepped down, but you have to roll with the punches and that’s what Saunders did.
What will be Flip’s biggest challenge as he takes over this team?
Remme says: The biggest challenge facing this group is trying to impose an identity of defense, accountability and toughness in this group. The 2013-14 Wolves team had a lot of attributes that made them look like a playoff-caliber team. They could score, they had wing production and they were excellent on the glass and in transition. But their defense was lacking significantly—especially in the fourth quarter—and they weren’t able to develop the right level of accountability on the defensive end or in the locker room to be a playoff team. In the NBA, challenging one another to hold a high standard for defensive togetherness and mental toughness can make the difference in being able to fight back and win games in the final minutes of the fourth. Flip talked about finding that type of identity in a coach when Adelman stepped down earlier this spring, and now it will be his own duty to try and bring that level of accountability back into the locker room. This team has players who want to win—that’s not the issue. The issue is being able to bond together and be strong enough to battle back when times get tough in games. This team moving forward will need to get that identity from Flip.
Ratke says: The main one is the Love situation. A lot depends on that. But we could write another 84,938 words on that.
A few things that come to my mind:
Progressing His Young Players
Saunders has some extra incentive to develop guys he drafted, like Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng being he was the one who drafted them. Adelman wasn’t exactly a rookie’s best friend, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Saunders played these guys more. The team needs those two to make big steps in 2015.
Does Pek Need A Minute-Limit?
The answer is probably yes. In the last two seasons, Pekovic has missed 48 combined games. If this guy’s your big-money center, you can’t have that. Maybe playing in spurts of seven minutes for 25-28 minutes per game is an option like Saunders hinted at last season. I’m not sure. I just know that this team needs Pekovic healthy.
Rubio needs to work on his shooting. We know. Personally, I think this is something that will actually work itself out over time. Jason Kidd was a pretty horrible shooter early in his career. He ended it being a 3-point assassin. The Spaniard has increased his shooting percentages from the field in each of his three seasons in the league. Obviously he’s going to have to improve that 38.1 percent he shot last season, but I haven’t given up just yet.
Also, he has to do all of this in the Western Conference. Godspeed, Flip. Godspeed.
Do you think Flip will continue to balance front office duties or handle the day-to-day coaching responsibilities exclusively?
Remme says: When Flip took over as President of Basketball Operations last May, he made comment about how as a coach you need to worry about the day-to-day. It is the front office’s job to deal with the long-term and understanding what moves over the long haul will be best for the team’s well-being. As coach, I see Flip tackling the day-to-day almost exclusively. He’ll likely have a say in personnel moves and working with general manager Milt Newton on final decisions, but Milt and Flip go way back and Flip knows that Milt is capable of handling the long-term front office duties while Flip is dealing with the day-to-day. I expect Milt to be much more visible to the media and to the public as we go through this Draft season and into Summer League and free agency. It will be his opportunity, after one full year in the GM role, to thrive as a talent evaluator and decision-maker while Flip handles the coaching aspect of the organization.
Ratke says: I hope he sticks to just coaching. We hear coaches talk all the time about burning themselves out with the travel and the 82-game season. It happened to Kevin McHale early on in his coaching career. I get tired sitting at an airport, so I couldn’t imagine the grind of an NBA season. Flip isn’t a spry chicken anymore. He’s 59-years-old and the guy needs rest. I do see him in the office at weird hours, though, so it’s possible he doesn’t sleep at all. The office duties will probably go to Milt Newton and I think the guy is more than capable of it. Flip will be in the mix with all major decisions, as he should, but I expect Milt to take care of scouting on a day-to-day basis as well as contract negotiations.