Some major Timberwolves coaching news leaked Thursday, as Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Sam Mitchell will be promoted to interim head coach while Flip Saunders steps away from the team to focus on his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Note: there will be more to follow once this morning’s 10:00 AM news conference concludes.) Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune laid out Mitchell’s qualifications to lead the team, including his past head coaching experience and familiarity with Flip Saunders’ modus operandi.
Earlier in the week, it was reported that the Wolves made another change to the coaching staff, one that may have flown a bit under the radar, but is important nonetheless. Ken Berger of CBS Sports revealed on Twitter that Bryan Gates, most recently an assistant with New Orleans, will join the Wolves’ staff for the 2015-16 season.
Like many NBA assistant coaches, Gates’ long journey to the big leagues has included successful stops in the D-League, the CBL, the USBL and abroad. Known as a tireless worker with ambition to one day become an NBA head coach, Gates has specialized in player development, especially over the past five seasons with the Pelicans. According to Berger, Gates has a great relationship with both Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett through his involvement with Team Canada, which undoubtedly contributed to his candidacy for a bench spot in Minnesota.
While the value of assistant coaches is difficult to quantify, there are reasons to like this hire. As cynical as it seems to criticize the “country club” atmosphere influencing staff decisions, it isn’t without merit. There seems to be a very select pool of candidates chosen for these types of jobs over the past few years, but Gates doesn’t fit that mold. He isn’t a former Wolves employee, nor does he belong to the Flip Saunders coaching tree. He exists outside of that sphere, and could theoretically provide a fresh voice and perspective. (The D-League teams he coached, for example, were affiliates of Utah, Portland, and Denver, and the previous head coach he worked under, Monty Williams, came from the Spurs’ organization.)
Gates’ name has been floated in the past as a potential head coaching candidate, but it’s way too early to tell if he’ll ever be considered a “coach-in-waiting” with Minnesota. If he has a strong relationship with one of the team’s young superstars and manages to impress Saunders and the rest of the Wolves’ brass with his work ethic, it’s possible that designation could come. For now, there’s plenty to do with the rest of Minnesota’s gaggle of first, second and third year players, all of whom have plenty of room to grow. Hopefully, Gates can assist in that endeavor.