Update, May 25, 6:13 p.m. ET: According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, Dave Joerger has turned down an offer to become the next head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, opting instead to return to his post with the Memphis Grizzlies:
Whoa: Dave Joerger, per source, has declined the Timberwolves' offer and will remain coach in Memphis.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) May 25, 2014
While this may sound like something of a shock, ESPN's Marc Stein notes this may be a ploy on the part of Joerger to compel Memphis to fire him, rather than force Minnesota to negotiate what could've been a pricey buyout.
Wolves feel as though they don't want to pay any compensation for a coach they know Grizz don't want to keep. Matter now of who yields— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 25, 2014
Grizzlies owner Robert Pera isn't willing to admit as much, of course:
Grizzlies owner Robert Pera reached out to Joerger Saturday night, & in conversations then & today convinced him he wanted to keep him.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) May 25, 2014
Also became clear quickly that the Wolves and Grizz were not seeing eye to eye on potential compensation to let Joerger out of his contract.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) May 25, 2014
Per Stein, this could be shaping up to be quite the war of wills:
Joerger still wants to go to Minnesota. Grizzlies insisting they won't fire him. Who blinks? Do Wolves ultimately surrender second-rounder?— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 25, 2014
We'll see how this plays out over the coming days. In the mean time, here is the story as it first broke on Sunday:
ORIGINAL TEXT: We’re hoping Dave Joerger has a bottle of champagne wherever he’s barbecuing over Memorial Day weekend because word has it the Minnesota Timberwolves’ job is his to lose.
According to The Associated Press (via NBA.com), the Wolves—who recently parted ways with veteran skipper Rick Adelman—are poised to “zero in” on Joerger to be their next head coach.
Joerger, who went 50-32 in his first season as coach of the Grizzlies and helped the team to the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff field, is still under contract for two more years in Memphis. But owner Robert Pera is believed to be considering a coaching change after he recently fired CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash, and it remained unclear just how much the Timberwolves want to give to the Grizzlies for a coach many presume could be fired any day.
Joerger, who is from Staples and went to college at Minnesota State, Moorhead, met with Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders on Thursday, then with several Wolves officials, including Taylor, for a second interview on Saturday evening.
As far as T’s to cross and I’s to dot go, “protracted feud with your current employer” seems like a pretty big one. But that’s exactly what Joerger faces with the Grizzlies, whose dismissal of Levien—whom many see as having brought Joerger aboard in the first place—served as a clear indication that the rookie coach’s days could be numbered.
His Minnesota ties may have been a deal-sweetener, but it’s in Joerger’s preference for an “uptempo” style of play (per the NBA.com story) that Minnesota sees perhaps its best chance of finally cracking the playoff threshold in 2014-15.
More importantly, the Wolves will doubtless try and use the hire of Joerger—young, creative, vivacious—as a way of convincing Kevin Love to reconsider his recent statements intimating the All-Star forward would not sign a contract extension with his longtime employer.
But judging by comments he made in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Paul Forrester (now of Bleacher Report) last October, Joerger’s self-described adaptability will be critical in the event of Love leaving Minnesota and a full-on rebuild becomes the mantra:
That's one of the positives about having coached in the minor leagues. My philosophy wasn't that I have one style of play each year, and maybe even within a year, your style may change throughout the course of a season because players come and go, and certainly from year to year your team changes dramatically. So whatever it takes for us to have the best system for the players that we have is what we're shooting for, and I don't think it would be wise on my part to throw everything that we built over the past couple of years.
Considering all the moving parts at play in Memphis, it seems unlikely Pera and Company would look to drag out a prospective Joerger buyout. Meanwhile, Minnesota will probably be willing to pay a token amount to cleave its new coach out of his current predicament.
Long-term, this is exactly the kind move you have to make if you’re the Wolves: splashy but sensible, high-risk but high reward and—biggest of all—a clear signal to your team’s best player that Minnesota means business when it comes to fully embracing a basketball youth movement.