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Wolves president/coach Saunders has cancer

Executive has undergone treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma

POSTED: Aug 11, 2015 1:39 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Minnesota Timberwolves president/head coach Flip Saunders will continue his duel roles after being diagnosed with cancer eight weeks ago.

Flip Saunders, the Minnesota Timberwolves' president of basketball operations and head coach, has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, the team announced Tuesday.

Saunders will continue his duties in both roles.

The 60-year-old executive and coach was first diagnosed with the disease eight weeks ago -- shortly before the NBA Draft -- by chief team physician Sheldon Burns. Saunders' treatment program began immediately with a medical team at the Mayo Clinic. He has continued to work during the period of diagnosis and treatment.

"I am taking it step-by-step and day-by-day to understand how to best manage this process," Saunders said in a statement released by the team. "I want to thank Dr. Burns as well as my medical team at Mayo Clinic for their hard work in diagnosing my situation and creating a plan to help me achieve a cancer-free outcome. I am attacking this with the same passion I do everything in my life, knowing this is a serious issue. I also know that God has prepared me to fight this battle."

Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to the Mayo Clinic website, is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. It is one of two type of cancers of that system, with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma far more common.

"Cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread beyond the lymphatic system," according to the site. "As Hodgkin's lymphoma progresses, it compromises your body's ability to fight infection. ... Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma have helped give people with this diagnosis the chance for a full recovery."

Saunders' spirits are said to be good, a league source told, as he nears the end of chemotherapy treatment.

"Being a coach, his reaction when he found out he had cancer was, 'What's the game plan?' " that person close to Saunders said. "He sees this like [basketball] -- you've got to respect that opponent."

Saunders, who also is a limited partner in the franchise's ownership, has a 654-592 (.525) coaching record in 17 seasons with Minnesota, Detroit and Washington. He led the Timberwolves to eight consecutive playoff appearances from 1997-2004, helping them reach the Western Conference finals with NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett in 2004.

Fired at 25-26 in February 2005, Saunders took over the Pistons the following season in the wake of predecessor Larry Brown's two trips to the Finals. Detroit reached the Eastern Conference championship round three consecutive times under Saunders, who was fired after the 2008 postseason despite a 166-70 mark there.

Hired by the Wizards in 2009-10, Saunders' and the organization's ambitions to contend in the East fizzled after the infamous Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton locker-room gun incident. Washington fell to 79 games under .500 in his two-plus seasons before he was let go.

After working two seasons as an NBA analyst for ESPN, Saunders returned to the Timberwolves in May 2013 as the team's chief basketball executive. He took over as head coach last season, replacing retired coach Rick Adelman.

A native of Cuyahoga Heights, Ohio, Saunders was a point guard at the University of Minnesota for future NBA players Kevin McHale and Mychal Thompson before embarking on a coaching career in college and the pros. He spent seven seasons in the CBA with Rapid City, La Crosse and Sioux Falls, winning two championships and twice being named that minor league's Coach of the Year.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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