Pros and Cons of Dave Joerger as Minnesota Timberwolves' Next Head Coach

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Pros and Cons of Dave Joerger as Minnesota Timberwolves' Next Head Coach
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Dave Joerger might not have any family photos hanging inside the Target Center, but he may well have an office already picked out.

The current Memphis Grizzlies coach seems a near lock to take over the Minnesota Timberwolves' bench. Joerger's negotiating period with the Timberwolves feels more like a courtesy two-week period given to his present employer.

Only, there's a less-than-courteous feel to his seemingly inevitable Memphis exit:

So, the Grizzlies' trash is potentially the Timberwolves' treasure.

Each report puts Joerger a little closer to returning to his home state.

First came Minnesota's request to speak with Joerger and Memphis' approval, via Sam Amick of USA Today, along with the belief the coach had emerged as the "Timberwolves' top target." Joerger met with president of basketball operations Flip Saunders Thursday, via Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press, and is scheduled to sit down with team owner Glen Taylor over the weekend.

There are still some hurdles left to clear, but sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Minnesota has made "significant progress" in its courtship of Joerger.

These pursuits can always take unexpected turns (see: Kerr, Steve). But it feels as if Joerger can start considering design plans for his new office sooner than later.

What does that mean for Minnesotans, though? Is all of this good news or bad news?

Well, it's a little of both. There are things to get excited about and a few potential worries, too. 

 

Pro: He's Been Waiting for Offensive Weapons Like Minnesota's

Don't expect Minnesota to become the "grit-and-grinders" of the North. If Joerger had his way, Memphis would have shed that sluggish style last season.

"I hope that we'll play a little bit faster and get the ball up and down the floor a little bit quicker and play with a quicker pace," Joerger told Sports Illustrated's Paul Forrester before the start of the season.

Joerger unleashed his up-tempo offense early in the year. It didn't last long.

In the least surprising development of 2013-14, the Zach Randolph-Marc Gasol frontcourt had trouble with the increased pace. The Grizzlies could see those struggles and decided for themselves that their old way of doing business—the one that had keyed a franchise-record 56 wins in 2012-13—was the way to go.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"We went fast, and I think we got a little bit out of control for everybody," Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said, via Amick. "...We knew that there were some plays from last year that we probably should keep. They're still working, so why not keep using them?"

Joerger, to his credit, adapted to what his team needed. Memphis finished the season with the league's slowest pace (92.25 possessions per 48 minutes), via NBA.com.

That adjustment wouldn't need to be made in Minnesota. These Wolves are already running at the league's fourth-fastest rate (99.82 possessions per 48 minutes).

Joerger's offense works best with freakish athletes. Memphis' top two-man tandem (minimum 200 minutes played) was James Johnson and Ed Davis (plus-16.4 points per 100 possessions). Davis, a 24-year-old with a drool-worthy combination of size and speed, particularly thrived in Joerger's system, finding himself on five of the team's 10 most efficient two-man lineups.

The Timberwolves don't have an Ed Davis, but they do have a Gorgui Dieng. The late-blooming big man—his first 20-plus-minute run came in late February—showed great length and agility en route to becoming an All-Rookie second team selection.

Minnesota has more freakish athletes on the perimeter: point guard Ricky Rubio, swingman Corey Brewer and forward Chase Budinger (if he can stay healthy). Rookie Shabazz Muhammad has flashed elite-level athleticism, but it seems to come in spurts.

The Wolves have the bodies for Joerger's offense, even if Kevin Love gets moved over the offseason.

They'll need to be special on that end of the floor, because the opposite side could prove problematic.

 

Con: His Defensive Schemes Could Go To Waste

Memphis has had an elite-level defense for years, a unit that seemed to get stronger the more Joerger was involved with it.

Joerger joined the Grizzlies as an assistant under Marc Iavaroni before the 2007-08 season. Joerger eventually became former coach Lionel Hollins' lead assistant, taking over the team's defense in 2010-11.

Memphis has been a top 10 defense in the four seasons since, finishing seventh in defensive efficiency this season, despite Gasol and Tony Allen each missing more than 20 games.

"He loves the craft," an NBA general manager told ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz. "Look what he’s done with [the Memphis] defense. He’s got [Tom] Thibodeau’s thing for defense, but he’s a lot more likable than Thibs."

The Grizzlies dominated defensively under Hollins and Joerger, but who should great credit for those performances? Were those rankings the results of great coaching, or simply the byproduct of employing great individual defenders?

Well, it was a little of both.

"The Grizzlies' D improved from 25th in efficiency (in 2009-10, the season before Joerger took it over) to ninth (in 2010-11) to seventh (2011-2) to second last season," Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard wrote. "Memphis' defensive success is due in part to its personnel...but also to Joerger's schemes."

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Joerger showed his players how to win with defense. Without that plan in place, the on-hand talent would have gone to waste.

But there's a direct relationship between the two sides.

Without highly skilled defenders like Gasol, Allen, Conley, Johnson and Davis, Joerger's designs wouldn't have been nearly as effective as they were. Great leadership cannot overcome the lack of competent workers.

The Wolves aren't bereft of defensive talent—the team finished tied for 14th in efficiency—but there are some sizable holes in this group.

The problems start on the perimeter. Kevin Martin plays matador defense (if he plays any at all), while Rubio and Brewer have a tendency to gamble on risk-reward plays.

"It's the time that they do it," former Wolves coach Rick Adelman said of his gamblers, via Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press. "If they go for it in the open court and it gives up an advantage to the other team, it's not a good thing."

There's a high value in getting steals, but the risk factor is magnified by Minnesota's lack of rim protection. The Wolves allowed a league-worst 63.1 field-goal percentage within five feet of the basket.

USA TODAY Sports

In that sense—and that sense alone—potentially moving on from Love could be a good thing. It will be a drain everywhere else and, ultimately, a likely major net loss .But the defensive personnel could improve.

The Love-Nikola Pekovic frontcourt was an invitation for opposing teams to attack the basket. The pair averaged 0.9 blocks in 67.1 minutes combined, or roughly as many as Dieng averaged (0.8) in his 13.6 minutes of action.

Dieng will be receiving a substantial increase in activity for the way he closed out the season: 11.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in nine April games. That should close off some of the driving lanes that plagued the Wolves, but Joerger will still inherit some sieves.

He'll also receive that massive cloud of uncertainty hanging over Love, but don't expect it to frighten him away from the position.

 

Pro: Great Chemistry Could Be Coming

There's too much smoke for there not to be a raging fire around Love. He's going to leave the Gopher State at some point before the draft, before the trade deadline or next offseason.

Love's reported disinterest in a contract extension and his desire to test the free-agent market all but ties Minnesota's hands.  It might not be, as Taylor told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota's "plan" to move to Love, but it's Love's plan to find a new home.

In a superstars league, no voice speaks louder than that of a certified star.

No coach would want to lose a talent like Love, and Joerger would be no exception.

Still, he's been around this business for a long time. The 40-year-old kicked off his coaching career working as a volunteer (that's right, unpaid) assistant with the Fargo-Moorhead Beez of the International Basketball Association, per Ballard.

Things happen. They happened to Joerger just last season.

Injuries wracked his rotation. His team started so poorly (10-15), sources told Stein that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera had to be "talked out" of firing the first-year coach.

The walls seemed to be crashing down around Joerger, but the coach never let the structure collapse.

USA TODAY Sports

"Joerger deftly navigated sticky situations in Memphis last season, especially during the team's poor start," Krawczynski noted. "He also showed some flexibility to change a few his offensive philosophies and return the grind-it-out style that the physical Grizzlies preferred, and the team took off."

Joerger learned the importance of patience, a necessary survival skill for the next Timberwolves coach. He also discovered that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, a lesson he'll need to relay to his players from the moment he steps foot back in 'Sota.

The Wolves won't bring in a star for Love. If one comes out of this trade, it will be a prospect who emerges down the line.

Still, Minnesota could wind up with a collection of good players, not unlike what Joerger had in Memphis. That's not the easiest setup to win with, but it works when everyone pursues the same goal.

Joerger made that happen in Memphis. He'd need to do the same in Minnesota with the personnel changes that are likely to come sooner than later.

Life after Love won't be easy, particularly if the team opts for prospects in return for its proven star. The Wolves may feel some of the same turbulence that Joerger encountered last season, and they'll need someone who won't buckle under the pressure.

Joerger looks like he can be that coach, but he'll come at a price.

 

Con: It Will Cost the Wolves

It hasn't seemed as such for a while, but Joerger is, in fact, still employed by the Grizzlies.

That complicates this courtship to an extent.

Memphis will likely want something in return for letting Joerger out of his current deal. The league prevents players being swapped for coaches, so Minnesota's only potential compensation to offer is either cash, draft considerations, or both.

League sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports the Grizzlies "are likely to ask for a second-round pick" in return for Joerger.  Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune seemed to hear something similar, as he noted that Minnesota's desired compensation was not going to be a "deal-breaker":

The sting of losing a second-round pick isn't that severe, particularly if Minnesota is convinced that Joerger is the right man for the job.

Still, this is a team that could be rebuilding in the very near future. The Wolves would like to be adding draft assets, not shipping them out.

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Again, the selection reportedly won't be a top-tier one, but it's still another piece. It's a potential avenue toward a talented player, whether that's landing an overlooked rookie with the pick or using it as a sweetener in a larger exchange.

In the grand scheme, this isn't the worst bullet to bite. It's far from being, like Zgoda said, a "deal-breaker."

It is, however, one of the most identifiable cons to bringing Joerger on board.

Maybe that's why this move seems so close to a formality. From a cost-benefit view, there is a lot to like about this potential move and not much to complain about.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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