Saunders Is Right Coach At Right Time
When Flip Saunders was hired as the President of Basketball Operations, he didn’t envision that he’d be back sitting courtside with a marker in his hand drawing up plays.
Well, Saunders will have to dig out his playbook again as the Minnesota Timberwolves have announced that Saunders will be the team’s head coach for at least the 2014-15 season.
“About a year ago when I took over as President, the last thing I said was we have a lot of work to do. I walked back to the office and the PR department and they had a picture back there of me coaching Chauncey, me coaching KG and the number of wins on there, over 600 wins on there, and I looked at that and at no time I had no intention to coach,” Saunders said during Friday’s press conference. “But as Glen (Taylor) said as we went through the process and you look at everything, inevitable the decision, there’s always a coach at the right time and the right place and so it’s time to put my tool belt back on and go back down to work.”
The team has been without a head coach after future Hall of Famer Rick Adelman retired on April 21 after three seasons with the Wolves. Saunders and Taylor went on their coaching search after Adelman’s announcement but they were unable to find the perfect candidate and with the Draft right around the corner, both decided that Saunders was the best option for the team’s head coach.
As many of you know, this isn’t Flip’s first rodeo. As head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995-96 to 2004-05, Saunders led the club to eight consecutive playoff appearances and a Western Conference-best and franchise-best 58-24 record in 2003-04 -- a season that concluded with a berth in the Western Conference Finals. During his tenure in Minnesota, Saunders won NBA Western Conference Coach of the Month honors four times (April ’04, Feb. ’03, Jan. ’01, Jan. ’00) and coached the Western Conference squad during the 2004 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Saunders is the Wolves’ all-time winningest coach, posting a winning record in six of his eight full seasons as head coach and compiling an overall record of 411-326 (.558).
After coaching the Wolves, Saunders went to Detroit where he led the Pistons to three straight Central Division titles. He then coached the Washington Wizards from 2009-2012.
Saunders has plenty of work ahead of himself with the uncertainty of Kevin Love’s future in Minnesota and a team that finished in 10th place in a tough Western Conference last season.
He does has plenty of tools to work with, though. And he has extra incentive to make sure these players on the roster work out, as he was responsible for many of them such as Kevin Martin, Ronny Turiaf, Corey Brewer and rookies Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng was in attendance for Friday’s announcement.
“Last year, I had a lot of workouts with Flip,” Dieng said. “If I had a day off, he always like told me…and he’s really tough. He’s always looking for improvement. So, I’m very excited to have him as head coach.”
“Gorgui, we’re really excited about what he’s done here with our franchise and how he’s improved,” Saunders said about his All-Rookie Second Team center.
With Saunders taking the reigns of the head coach, expect General Manager Milt Newton to have an expanded role in the front office. Ideally, Taylor said he’d like to have Saunders move his responsibilities back upstairs, but right now, this was the best decision for the franchise.
“It was always my preference if we could find another person to take on that leadership role that I’d like to have Flip concentrate as President of Basketball Operations, but I think after discussing it and looking at it the best scenario that we came up with that Flip should take on that added responsibility,” Taylor said.
“It changes a little bit. Flip and I will continue to work together to run the basketball side of things, I'll be fielding, fielding probably more calls from agents,” Newton said on his role. “The one thing that we want to do is put Flip in a situation where he can really concentrate on the, one the court now, with the team, kind of be efficient and show a lot of the day-to-day phone calls that he would deal with me coming in on the tail-end, I would probably try to maybe facilitate those more and answer a lot of those calls going forward.”
The definition of “all in” is pretty much what Saunders is doing here in Minnesota. Only time will tell if this is a short-term solution before the Wolves reach out to another candidate or a long-term fix.
One thing is for certain, though, Minnesota’s winningest coach in team history is back.