he Minnesota Timberwolves today named Flip Saunders as the franchise's head coach. Saunders served as head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995 to 2005 leading the team to its most successful years, highlighted by a trip to the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Saunders will remain as the team's President of Basketball Operations, a position he assumed in May of 2013.
"After an exhaustive process and several thorough discussions with Flip, we came to the conclusion that he was the stabilizing force needed to lead our team," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said. "Flip led us to our most successful seasons; he knows what it takes to win in the NBA as his track record speaks for itself. He is widely known as one of the most creative basketball minds and I believe he is the right coach to lead our team. Flip and Milt Newton provide our front office the synergy needed to put our franchise in the best position to succeed now and in the future."
Saunders talked about the decision, per the report:
"In talking to Glen, we came to the decision that this outcome would be the best for our franchise," Saunders said. “I will work tirelessly to bring back the success our franchise experienced in the late '90s to early 2000s. To that end, I will assemble a diverse, experienced coaching staff that will bring out the best in our players. Milt and I will continue to make the necessary moves that we believe will help our franchise return to the playoffs.”
Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press first passed along word of the decision:
APNewsBreak: Flip Saunders is taking the head coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) June 5, 2014
Dan Barreiro of KFAN Radio in Minneapolis notes the introductory news conference is expected soon:
Sources: Flip will be Wolves next head coach. News conference as soon as Friday— Dan Barreiro (@DanBarreiroKFAN) June 5, 2014
Marc Stein of ESPN reports Saunders confirmed the news:
Flip Saunders just confirmed to ESPN he is indeed the new coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 5, 2014
Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune provides owner Glen Taylor's reasoning behind the decision:
Glen Taylor on choosing a short-term solution w/ Flip: "“You’ve always got to keep your options open and that’s what we did here... "— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) June 5, 2014
Glen Taylor continued: "For the long run, this is the next step we have to take.”— Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) June 5, 2014
Either Saunders wasn't overly thrilled with the available candidates or he's opting to live by the old adage, "If you want a job done right, do it yourself." Perhaps this decision is a combination of both.
Is Saunders making the right move?
The job became available after Rick Adelman, who spent the last three seasons with the Timberwolves, decided to retire from coaching. The team went 97-133 during his stint as head coach, and he will now work as a consultant for the franchise.
Saunders previously coached Minnesota for a decade starting in 1995. He then had shorter stops with the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards before moving into a front-office role with the Wolves just over a year ago.
His teams have won nearly 55 percent of their games and made the playoffs in 11 of 14 combined seasons, excluding seasons where he was let go by Minnesota and Washington. Included in those postseason berths are four trips to the conference finals, but no NBA Finals appearances.
Saunders' biggest task in his return to the bench is figuring out the Kevin Love situation, which is already a work in progress. ESPN.com passed along comments from him earlier in the week about expecting the team's biggest star to return despite the trade speculation:
The last I knew Kevin was under contract with us, and I expect him to be playing for us next year. I don't really dictate where guys go on vacation or what they do. They can go wherever they want to go.
Zach Harper of CBS Sports broke down how Saunders' move to the bench may impact the landscape surrounding Minnesota's star:
Love was always going to opt out of his contract. The front office knows this. Makes more money by not accepting extension. However...— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 5, 2014
They’ve felt they’d still have the upper hand in this situation in getting him to re-sign and somehow think this Flip move helps that.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 5, 2014
It doesn’t.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 5, 2014
Aside from that, Saunders is assuming all of the pressure usually split between the front office and the coaching staff. Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak was one of many to joke about the unique situation:
Flip Saunders hires Flip Saunders, saying "The interview was what sealed it. Flip Saunders was very impressed by Flip Saunders."— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) June 5, 2014
Saunders has enjoyed success as a coach before, but his work building the roster is going to take center stage for the time being. He either has to convince Love to stay and start putting some talent around him or move him for the best offer and start rebuilding.
Maybe that's part of why he took the job. If he can sort out the roster situation, the job could become a lot more attractive in a couple years, at which point he can lure a top name and move back into a single role as president.
For now, he's going with the do-it-all approach for a team with plenty of work to do before moving into the contender category.