The Minnesota Timberwolves are holding a press conference at 1pm CT on Friday and it’s going to look something like the picture above.
President of basketball operations and part-owner Flip Saunders confirmed to multiple media outlets he’ll be the next coach of the Wolves. We don’t know how long he’ll be the coach. We don’t quite know who will be on his assistant staff (although Sam Mitchell, David Blatt, Sidney Lowe, his son Ryan, and Chauncey Billups are being floated as possibilities, and you’d assume one of those guys would be groomed to take over). But we do know this is what the Wolves came up with when they couldn’t get Dave Joerger to be the coach and had to go back to the drawing board.
The drawing board led to Flip Saunders deciding he should hire himself to be the coach for a currently indeterminate amount of time. This isn’t shocking news to those who have been paying attention. Back when he was introduced as the new part-owner and president of basketball operations, Flip said something along the lines of “well, you never stop being a coach.” It was at that point it seemed obvious he’d eventually return to the sidelines, and considering he knew the guy making the personnel decisions and had a good relationship with himself, his role as president made it all the easier.
He just had to convince Glen Taylor to allow it. He’s apparently done that. For months, we’ve heard that Taylor wasn’t too keen on the idea of Flip assuming both roles with the team. The reason? Well, it’s really hard to pull off both, especially in today’s Collective Bargaining Agreement world. And considering this team needs 100% attention and effort given to both jobs at the same time, it seems impossible for Flip to do that while rebuilding the team. It also doesn’t allow him separation from ground zero of the roster.
That is the biggest trepidation of having the coach and the roster decision-maker as the same person. A player could win over the heart of Flip the coach when Flip the president should be trying to move him. That’s assuming Saunders can’t separate the two, and maybe that’s an unfair assumption, but it’s still a concern with this decision.
Other concerns are that Flip’s time in Washington with the Wizards was a disaster, and since the NBA has changed its defensive rules that neutralize the brilliance of Flip’s defensive rule-bending of his time when he was last the coach of the Wolves, his impact on the sidelines has been lessened considerably. I don’t think we know if Flip will be a bad coach or a good coach. He used to be a good coach here but we don’t know that he can be a good coach in today’s NBA. But that’s not the biggest concern I have with a placeholder decision like this.
The biggest concern for me with this move is it’s a last ditch effort to convince Kevin Love to stay. That’s great if he… you know… stays, but if he doesn’t, it destroys any and all leverage this team has in trading him. If the Wolves are going to get anything close to fair or good value in trading Love, it has to happen around draft night or right when free agency starts when teams have maximum cap room available. As the days, weeks, and months tick away, the Wolves lose leverage. How can the Wolves have leverage, some may ask?
As of right now, there is a prime bidding war in pursuit of Kevin Love. The Suns, Celtics, Bulls, Warriors, and Rockets are all serious bidders for the Wolves. The Knicks and Lakers like to pretend they’re in the hunt as well, but you have at least five serious contenders for it, and the Cavaliers could overwhelm them all if they decided to make the No. 1 pick available in this draft. As teams start having to fill up their rosters and eliminate their cap room in the process, the suitors start falling off. The asset return becomes diminished and you start wondering if you should even move him at the deadline or if it would make more sense to hope for a sign-and-trade when he hits free agency.
As of a couple months ago, this front office felt extremely confident they could sway Love into staying. After the past month of rumors and Love doing nothing to quell the storm, they can’t possibly fool themselves into thinking this has any likelihood. With this move, it feels like the team is burying its head in the sand and ignoring the gravity of this situation. This team isn’t being reactive, and they’re certainly not being proactive. They’re being stagnant, which the track record of this organization foretold it would be.
It’s possible Flip taking over will fix everything it needs to fix. But how does anybody feel confident in a decision like this when it feels like they have no idea where to go next?