Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has perhaps a career-defining decision in front of him with his first hiring of a head coach for the franchise.
So it makes sense Saunders is apparently turning to Vinny Del Negro.
In the wake of Rick Adelman's retirement and the Kevin Love fiasco, Saunders needs a proven winner and builder of talent.
Like it or not, Del Negro can provide both. ESPN's Marc Stein confirmed that Del Negro is in the running after other options have faded down the home stretch of the process:
Sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that Del Negro, who is also being considered for the Cleveland Cavaliers' job, was spotted last week interviewing with Wolves president and part-owner Flip Saunders and is firmly in the mix for the post after the collapse of Minnesota's talks with Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger.
Saunders would know best who to hire considering he was the last coach to lead the franchise to the postseason in 2004. The fact he claims to be unwilling to involve Love in the coaching search, per ESPN's Judd Zulgad, says volumes about how he feels about both situations.
After all, Love is presumably on his way out, after his people told the Minnesota front office he will leave via free agency at the end of next season if he is not traded, according to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.
Perhaps the Love-Del Negro combo would prove volatile, anyway. Del Negro is known for his tough-love approach, especially toward his big men. During his stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, Del Negro was apparently rough with center DeAndre Jordan, who went on to flourish under Doc Rivers. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk encapsulated this best:
Not even close. Doc worked hard to build confidence Vinny tore down RT @JonesOnTheNBA: Does Jordan develop like this under Vinny Del Negro?— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 30, 2014
That may sound like a red flag to observers, but Saunders should be past the point of coddling superstars, let alone any player. Del Negro gets results in the win column while putting his talent in the best position to succeed, as noted by his last two years in Los Angeles:
It's quite apparent that his joining the Timberwolves is a forward-looking move, as illustrated by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
Del Negro's candidacy isn't so much about selling K-Love, as it's developing Ricky Rubio, sources say. He had Rose and Paul in CHI and LA.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 29, 2014
Wolves owner Glen Taylor has been partial to Sam Mitchell, but Saunders is increasingly intrigued with Del Negro's candidacy, sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 29, 2014
Let's be honest: Part of the inner-workings of this whole shindig is rather simple—the Timberwolves are coaching purgatory. Nobody wants to be there, especially if Love is potentially on his way out.
That's not meant to be insulting, but right now it's a "take what you can get" situation for Saunders, who sees a guy in Del Negro who has never had a team go below .500 and has a career .533 winning percentage.
Should the Timberwolves hire Del Negro?
Del Negro gets a lot of heat for his simplistic schemes that get his teams trounced in the postseason, but we're talking about a franchise that has not even made it to that point in a decade.
Other critics like to point out that Del Negro's successors at his past two jobs have done better, but being replaced by Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers has a way of doing that.
Which is the main point: Del Negro is somewhat of a stopgap solution. Let his schemes produce wins, develop young talent, attract more and eventually nab a Rivers once the Timberwolves are back to the realm of relevance. It's not like the other candidates for the job have been can't-miss coaches with proven track records.
Del Negro is the man for the task at hand in Minnesota.