When Flip Saunders took over the role of president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the first things he talked about in regards to this team was reevaluating the medical situation. The Wolves haven’t had the best luck/fortune/fortuity over the years when it comes to health. As they move toward the future with this exciting young core, the health seems to be even more important than year’s past. You don’t want to see a promising future derailed by (presumably) preventable body issues.
That’s why I found this little nugget in David Aldridge’s off-season rankings (he’s ranking off-seasons, not the teams in the off-season) particularly interesting. He placed the Wolves as having the fourth best off-season and named former Detroit Pistons’ physical therapist Arnie Kander as their key man of the off-season.
According to Aldridge, Kander is joining the Wolves in a new capacity next month. Kander is regarded as one of the top guys around the league when it comes to body mechanics and an innovator in the NBA with physical training.
THE KEY MAN: Physicial therapist Arnie Kander. I’m hearing that Kander, who resigned in Detroit in June after 23 years there as one of the best body mechanics in the league, will be joining the Timberwolves in a new capacity in September. Kander and Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders know each other from Saunders’ time as coach in Detroit, and had a great working relationship. Kander will be no doubt be tasked with figuring out how to keep Ricky Rubio in one piece going forward. Garnett will love him, too.
With the new facilities being put into use and the hiring of Kander, the Wolves should be as prepared as most teams when it comes to the physical nature of its players, in theory. It’s still unclear what Kander’s actual role will be and whether or not it affects the positions of Mark Kyger (Wolves’ director of athletic therapy for the past two seasons), Koichi Sato (director of sports performance last two seasons), or Dave Crewe (assistant athletic trainer last three seasons, with Wolves for past five seasons). The Wolves appear to have a very solid approach to the medical aspect of this team since Saunders has taken over the team operations, but a move like Kander to consult, oversea, or just be involved with this team’s training approach could push them into being elite when it comes to this area of team preparation.
Kander spent 23 years with the Pistons and has a pretty fascinating story. He became interested in strength and conditioning during the mid-80’s when he was a professional dancer for the Virginia Ballet Company. He joined the Pistons in 1992 and quickly became one of the leaders in physical training in the NBA. While working for the Pistons, he helped athletes from all walks of life, and helped keep strong, physical teams like the 2004 champions in relative good health. The preparation and recovery he designed for his players helped the Pistons stay healthy enough to be able to make six straight Eastern Conference finals from 2003 to 2008.
Obviously, there is some good fortune involved when it comes to that stuff. Turned ankles, broken bones, and players having their legs crashed into can’t really be prepared for or prevented. However, knowing the proper ways to stay ahead of the injuries caused by body imbalances and deterioration and aiding players in recovering from injuries can swing the fortunes of a team quite easily.
Whether it’s Sam Cassell injuring his hip while showing off how big his… testicular fortitude during the playoffs or Ricky Rubio tearing his knee on the brink of pushing the Wolves to the 8-seed his rookie season or Kevin Love’s “knuckle pushups,” the Wolves have found themselves on the short end of the full depth chart stick. This can be a “luck thing” or it can be a matter of poor procedures and outdated methods for getting players ready. Most of us just pretend to be doctors right after injuries occur, so we don’t really know nor do we have access to just how properly the Wolves prepare their bodies for the grind of a regular season. But that’s not necessarily something that can be turned overnight.
It will be interesting to see what role Kander has with the Wolves and how much work he can do with guys like Kevin Garnett, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, and the young guys the Wolves have brought in over the past two off-seasons. There are always under the radar, procedural things we hear about and don’t realize just how integral they are to the future of a franchise, but a move like this by Flip can be immensely important.