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Mitchell Knows There's Still A Job To Be Done
Sam Mitchell said that first and foremost, his thoughts and prayers are with Flip Saunders and his family.
But Mitchell also said that it’s up to him – the team’s interim head coach, General Manager Milt Newton and the rest of the coaching staff to continue out Saunders’ vision with this team.
The Wolves announced Friday morning that Mitchell will serve as the team’s interim head coach while Saunders takes a leave of absence from his duties and Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations.
Per the team’s press release:
Saunders, who had been undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma earlier this summer, recently experienced complications from his completed treatments. Recently, he was admitted to a local area hospital where he remains at this time while undergoing further testing and treatment.
“Well, it’s tough,” Mitchell said during Friday’s press conference. “…He hired us in case something happens, we know what to do and can carry on the vision. And I just look like my job as just to carry it. I’m going to come in and coach the team to the best of my ability and get our guys playing hard.”
Mitchell was one of the original Timberwolves back in 1989. He also played with the Wolves from 1995 until his retirement in 2002. His head coach during that time? Saunders. Mitchell said that he learned a lot of his coaching concepts from Saunders and implemented them as a head coach in Toronto, where he went 47-35 in 2006-07, winning the NBA Coach of the Year award.
In five seasons with Toronto, Mitchell finished with a 156-189 overall record, advancing to the playoffs in 2006-07 and 2007-08. He served as an assistant coach for Milwaukee (2002-2004), New Jersey (2010-2012) and with Minnesota last season.
It’s been seven years since his last head coaching job, but Mitchell said that he’s learned a lot since then.
“As a young coach, I tried to do everything,” Mitchell said. “… (Now) I’m going to focus on the big picture.”
It will also help that Saunders has assembled a great staff around Mitchell. Assistant coach Sidney Lowe has experience coaching and playing, while David Adelman and Ryan Saunders are two of the brightest young coaches in the NBA.
“We’ve got a job to do. Flip brought us here to do that, in case something happens,” Mitchell said. “It’s unexpected. You don’t want to step in under these circumstances, but you know, Flip brought us here for a reason.”
Newton will also have enhanced responsibilities in the day-to-day and strategic procedures with the basketball operations team. Newton has informed the majority of the players of the situation. Newton said while the players’ thoughts and prayers are with Saunders, this is also an extremely professional group that knows it needs to be prepared.
“At this point they know that training camp is coming up and we have a vision that has to be worked on,” Newton said.
Both Newton and Mitchell have the full confidence of the organization in Saunders’ absence.
“They have the talent and the abilities to step in and do the job,” Timberwolves Chief Executive Officer Rob Moore said. “And we have complete faith and confidence in them as an organization. We will all continue to work hard to fulfill Flip’s vision of becoming a united organization filled with passion and a desire to succeed both on and off the court.