Will Flip Saunders Coaching Minnesota Timberwolves Help Keep Kevin Love?

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves poses for a photo prior to the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery on May 21, 2013 at the Millennium Hotel in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Steven Freeman/Getty Images

Flip Saunders must have quite the appetite, because his plate with the Minnesota Timberwolves is overwhelmingly full. 

He's just unsure whether he'll have a helping of Kevin Love.

After failing to find head coach Rick Adelman's successor, Saunders is taking drastic measures and plans to handle the job himself, per the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski:

Minnesota's new head coach confirmed the news himself to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

This isn't Saunders' first go-round on Minnesota's bench. He coached the Timberwolves for 10 seasons between 1995 and 2005, back when Kevin Garnett was still in town and the playoffs weren't considered foreign soil.

Under Saunders, the Timberwolves rattled off eight consecutive postseason appearances and four 50-win campaigns. He was and remains a symbol of past success and better times. 

All of which means nothing.

The Timberwolves certainly wish to end their decadelong playoff drought, but they have one precariously loose end to tie up: Love's future.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported in May that Love informed the Timberwolves that he had no intention of signing an extension and would opt to explore unrestricted free agency next season. There was no mention of an ironclad trade demand, but there didn't need to be. The message is crystal clear: Love wants out. 

It's Saunders' job to see if he can change that, just like it always has been.


Different Kind of Symbol

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 21:  Rick Adelman, head coach of the MInnesota Timberwolves announces his retirement from coaching with Phil 'Flip' Saunders, President of Basketball Operations during a press conference on April 21, 2014 at the Minnesota Timberwol
David Sherman/Getty Images

Make no mistake, the Timberwolves don't want to trade Love. Saunders may not even be in Minnesota if the team did. He was brought in to replace former GM David Kahn and reinvent the dark, depressing culture consuming the franchise amid its depressing postseasonless stretch. His job was and remains to sell Love on staying.

Unless that ship has completely sailed. Which it has.

Saunders' decision to assume control of the Timberwolves isn't an inspirational balefire. This is a failure in itself. Stepping in to coach wasn't his first choice.

When Adelman first left, the Timberwolves were linked to a variety of names. Stein said they wanted to poach the offensively progressive Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State. They were close to stealing Dave Joerger from the Memphis Grizzlies, according to Wojnarowski. Everything they did failed, everyone of significance they chased fell through. 

And why? 

Kevin Love.

Here's what Krawczynski wrote on the matter:

When Rick Adelman retired at the end of the regular season, he did so in part to try to help the Timberwolves move forward with a plan to show Love, a three-time All-Star who can opt out of his contract next summer, that there was a long-term plan in place for success.

But Love's tenuous situation only complicated the search process, with trade rumors serving as a caution sign for several high-profile candidates.

Regardless, nothing has changed. That's the real problem.

The status quo is intact. Saunders doesn't prove to Love that the Timberwolves are tracking toward the end of their 10-year playoff absence or—more importantly—the All-Star forward's careerlong postseason respite. CBS Sports NBA writer Zach Harper reiterated with the inconvenient truth:

At best, this will have no bearing on Love's decision or current feelings. If anything, it guarantees his departure—his imminent departure.


Warming Up to the Inevitable

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Publicly, the Timberwolves have continued to deny that Love is available. Speculation took on a life of its own and the front office tried to squash it.

"I know there's a feeding frenzy out there from a lot of teams, unfortunately they have no say," Saunders said, per the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. "I plan on Kevin being here."

Privately, Saunders and the Timberwolves have started to soften on that stance.

One source told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that, behind closed doors, the team was "paving the way to make something happen sooner rather than later." Sooner meant draft night.

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald was told much of the same, writing that Saunders has "slowly opened the window to start taking offers."

None of this sounds like the Timberwolves are preparing to keep Love. They undoubtedly want to, but from the reports to the botched coaching search to the new head honcho himself, it appears they're resigning to what was always inevitable.


A Lost Cause?

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

This is by no means Saunders' fault. It was his job to keep Love, but he was gifted a shattered vase and told to piece it back together without using his hands. 

Love's departure has been years in the making. What he said to Wojnarowski in 2012 still reverberates throughout the NBA, powerfully resonating with those who understand the hopelessness of this situation.

"I don't know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs," Love recounted then. "I mean, it's not like I had much support out there."

That was the beginning of the end. Love's impending departure wasn't etched in marble at that time, but the Timberwolves handed him a slab and chisel by devaluing his importance. 

There has been one failure after another since then. After refusing to give Love the five-year extension he sought in 2012, the Timberwolves have continuously failed to make the playoffs. Handing Nikola Pekovic a five-year deal didn't help perception of this ordeal, either. The entire thing has gradually unraveled.

The Timberwolves could, of course, try to roll the dice by holding out. Saunders has shown he will spend to bring in talent. The arrivals of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer last summer proved that much.

But this isn't about signs of good faith anymore. It hasn't been for quite some time. 

Plans have changed in Minny.
Plans have changed in Minny.David Sherman/Getty Images

For a while now, the Timberwolves needed results. They needed to reach the playoffs and remove much of the constant ambiguity plaguing Love's status, and they needed to do this more than once.

Keeping Love and snagging a playoff berth next season won't do anything. One glimmer of light after seven years of gloom and doom won't be enough. If Love finishes 2014-15 with the Timberwolves, he will leave, which means the plan must change if it hasn't already.

"I expect Kevin Love to be here next year," Saunders recently said, per Krawczynski of the AP.

Expect something else from him and the Timberwolves now.

Trying to retain Love is no longer Saunders' main priority as coach and president. Ensuring Love's departure doesn't leave the Timberwolves with nothing on their plate is.