Wolves' Coaching Search Now Begins

Rick Adelman and Flip Saunders address the media during Adelman's press conference announcing his retirement from coaching on Monday.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Now that Rick Adelman officially announced his retirement from coaching and has assumed a role with the team as a consultant, one glaring question stands out:

Who is going to replace him on the bench?

The Wolves will begin tackling their coaching search immediately, and there are several routes they can take. President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said on Monday that one of the top criteria he’s looking for in this coaching search is someone who has enough experience to step into the role. That doesn’t necessarily mean head coaching experience at the college or professional levels—the Wolves will likely look at assistants, too—but it does mean the individual has been around the game enough at a high enough level to take on the responsibilities of a head coach.

The first question, naturally, was whether or not Saunders would assume the role himself. He is the franchise’s leader in coaching wins with 411, and he’s led the Wolves to their only eight playoff appearances in team history. Saunders said he would not comment on that as the search process begins because there are a lot of options to consider.

“Ideally right now, we’re going to do a search,” Saunders said. “The search isn’t just coming to talk to me, so I’m going to go about it and there’s people we’ll sit down and talk and put a list together. We’ll see the answers that those people have, and we’ll make decisions based on that.”

What Saunders did say is there will be a high premium on keeping the Wolves’ offense rolling as it did this year.

Minnesota finished the season fourth in points per game (106.9), fifth in points in the paint per game (47.3), fifth in assists per game (24.0) and second in free throws made per game (21.8). They want to continue attacking the basket the way they did a year ago under Rick Adelman.

With essentially the same main group returning next year, the Wolves should have similar success offensively as long as the new coach is able to keep that engine running.

“One thing Rick has brought to this team is an offense, an offensive identity—so we don’t want to lose that offensive identity,” Saunders said. “So like anything, you want a coach that’s demanding, you want a coach who is adaptable, has flexibility. As Rick talked about, successful coaches have the ability to take talent and adapt that talent into a system.”

The bright side on that front is the Wolves have pieces in place that should be able to continue providing offensive diversity. Kevin Love afforded the Wolves incredible range and versatility this year, and he’ll continue to do so. He posts up, has that difficult to stop baby hook, and he can hit 3-pointers on the outside. The combination of Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng is showcasing the ability to help clean up the glass and provide interior help, and they also are able to keep the offense flowing by moving the ball around.

Ricky Rubio is a natural in that regard—his 8.5 assists per game were fifth best in the league, and his 703 overall assists were second only to John Wall. Kevin Martin gave the Wolves the length and 3-point shooting ability they were looking for in a shooting guard, and Corey Brewer’s continuous energy helps not only in transition but in the team’s half court motion.

The pieces are in place.

“The year Kevin Love had was unbelievable,” Adelman said. “Pek had a good year except for the injuries. He’s got to get healthy. There’s growth in Ricky. Kevin Martin, he gave us 19 points a game. He gave us that. I think there are additions that need to be made. It’s a 40-win team that can jump 10 more wins if you add the right people. Yeah, I think it could happen.”

Saunders said one of the keys for finding the next coach is identifying someone who can also bring an example of team toughness and solidified defense.

He said he’s looking for someone who will help the team get tougher. Looking at the teams in this year’s postseason, they’re able to fight through the mental and physical barriers that arise during a game. You need a hit-first approach to physicality, and you need to be able to change the complexion of the game based on that physical and mental toughness.

And defensively, Saunders said the Wolves relied heavily on steals because they weren’t great 1-on-1 defenders.

“I’m sure whichever coach we have in here will have some sort of a defensive philosophy,” Saunders said. “Whether it’s pressure, whether it’s sag back and make them beat you from the outside. That’s been the most successful when you look at San Antonio, you look at Boston when they won as far as with Garnett and with Pierce. You look at Chicago and Miami, they play the same way. So we’ll have to wait and see which philosophy the coach who comes in here has.”

As for a timeline, Saunders said he’d prefer but won’t settle for sooner rather than later. If it happens to be at or beyond the NBA Draft, that’s the way it will need to be. Saunders will identify a list, and it could include people who are currently in the playoffs.

The process could take some time.

“I’m not going to put a date on that,” Saunders said. “I believe it will be able to have people who work with players, the players that we have in development, which I think is going to be key. I think having been a coach myself, I think, I believe we can lead through this transition period.”