Is Sam Mitchell the Right Coaching Choice for the Minnesota Timberwolves?

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Is Sam Mitchell the Right Coaching Choice for the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Toronto Raptor fans know better than anyone what kind of head coach Sam Mitchell can be. The Minnesota Timberwolves may be next in line to experience his vehement coaching style and vocal sideline tactics.

The Timberwolves finished the 2013-14 regular season with a record of 40-42, placing third in the Northwest Division and 10th in the Western Conference. They missed out on the eighth and final playoff spot by nine games, resulting in the 10th-straight season where they've failed to qualify for the postseason.

On April 21, former head coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement after 23 years in the NBA, per ESPN.com. He accumulated a .394 winning percentage (97-133) during his three years on the job (2011-2014). With Adelman out of the picture and the position vacant, the door is now open for Mitchell to return to the coaching ranks and help revitalize a franchise where he spent 10 years as a player.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on May 18 that Mitchell was being looked at as a serious candidate for the job after a meeting he had with team president Flip Saunders:

As the Minnesota Timberwolves consider the future of All-Star forward Kevin Love, Sam Mitchell has emerged as a serious candidate for the franchise’s head coaching job, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mitchell left a good impression with Wolves president Flip Saunders in a recent meeting and has moved himself into consideration for the job, league sources said. …

Mitchell has a strong history with Saunders and Minnesota, where he had two stops as a player — 1989-1992 and 1995-2002. Mitchell played for Saunders in his second stint.

During his time with the Timberwolves organization (1989-92 and 1995-2002), Mitchell averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists, while starting 291 of the 757 games he competed in. He played under Saunders during his second stint, so there's obvious history between the two gentlemen.

Mitchell has spent the last few years as an analyst for the TSN network in Canada, working March Madness tournaments and Raptor home games. Fans north of the border are accustomed to seeing the 50-year-old with a microphone in his hand in recent memory, but die-hards of the team know Mitchell best as the longest-reigning coach (345 games) the team has ever had. 

After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, Mitchell was brought in to be the new coach of the Raptors in 2004. The team had just endured a mediocre run under the Kevin O'Neill regime (33-49), so former general manager Rob Babcock felt a change was needed in that role and that Mitchell was just the man for the job.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

There were some growing pains along the way, but Mitchell appeared to have the full support of management early on. The team won just 60 games in his first two seasons, but in 2006-07, the Raptors turned things around and earned their first-ever Atlantic Division title and the first postseason berth in four years.

In the process, Mitchell was named NBA Coach of the Year for his role in helping rebuild a team that didn't have much of a reputation for winning basketball. Several key moves by GM Bryan Colangelo had a great deal to do with it, but Mitchell was the one who had to make the new pieces mesh and co-exist on the court.

Despite having home-court advantage in the first round against the New Jersey Nets, Toronto ultimately fell in six games. The team regressed the following year in 2007-08 as they went .500 during the season and were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs, this time by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in five games.

An 8-9 start to the 2008-09 campaign was the final nail in Mitchell's coffin. He was relieved of his duties on Dec. 8, 2008 with 156 wins and 189 losses. 

One thing that could never be held against Mitchell was a lack of passion. He emulated the same drive and desire he had to be great as a player and carried that over into his coaching. Mitchell promoted toughness and hard work, although some of his players were harder to reach than others.

In an interview with "Tim & Sid" on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto over a year ago, Mitchell discussed former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani and how he was told numerous times to go easy on him by his superiors, per Mike Johnston of Sportsnet.ca

I wasn’t allowed to coach Andrea the same way I was allowed to coach Jose (Calderon). I was a hard ass on Jose; I was hard on him, but look at the type of player he turned out to be.

I was not allowed to be that tough on Andrea because within the organization we felt he couldn’t take it. And my whole thing was if he can’t take it then we can’t build around him. And no one thought Jose could take it, and Jose did.

I think because he was the No. 1 pick and a lot was invested in him, I just think people in the organization thought my coaching style would be too tough on Andrea.

If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Mitchell was a hard-nosed coach that rarely wanted to take it easy on his players. It must have been extremely difficult for him to swallow his tongue with Bargnani and go against his coaching principles.

As former player and current NBA analyst Jalen Rose pointed out for Grantland.com, Mitchell was even willing to get physical and throw down with All-Star players such as Vince Carter. Although this story has yet to be confirmed, the legends of the apparent scuffles between Carter and Mitchell are still being told to this day.

If you focus mainly on the negative, you'll be overshadowing so many good things Mitchell did for the Raptors. That's the way things work, though. When things were good, they were really good. When the going got tough, all anyone wanted to do was hide under their desk and pretend like nothing was happening.

If Saunders did pull the trigger and brought aboard Mitchell to replace Adelman, the state of Minnesota would support the decision and cross their fingers for a quick turnaround. They'd give Mitchell more leeway because of his past but not a lot more. 

He was around when the franchise first came into being in 1989. He was a part of the Kevin Garnett era; the most successful era the Timberwolves ever had. Mitchell is forever ingrained in the history of the team. 

The young core of Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Corey Brewer and Kevin Love (who's future with the team is still very much in doubt) would be in for a rude awakening if they believed Mitchell would take things down a notch for his second head coaching gig. Au contraire

He deserves the opportunity to be back coaching in the National Basketball Association. This is the right job, the right situation and the right support group for that to happen. 

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

Christopher Walder is a freelance writer who has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, SI.com and several other online outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports.

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