The 2013 NBA Draft is a week away, and Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders is a busy man.
There are two first-round picks to make use of, a handful of free agents to possibly re-sign, and a whole list of other demands the former coach and media analyst is still getting used to meeting. He technically doesn’t even have an office yet.
But Saunders is enjoying the executive stage of his professional basketball journey so far, as he told Fox Sports North on Thursday in an exclusive interview following an appearance on the Minnesota Twins’ pregame show at Target Field.
FSN: You’ve been on the job less than two months. How would you say it’s going so far, overall?
SAUNDERS: It’s going good. Basically, the infrastructure, just getting everything in place, you kind of put your priorities every day: you spend some time with the draft, you spend some time dealing with the management of the team, you spend some time dealing with the players that you have here, and spend some time dealing with the future free agency of our players, which is the most important right now, and see what might be available for us to get in free agency.
FSN: How does running the team compare to the coaching side and the media side of basketball?
SAUNDERS: I’ve always been involved a lot, when I was coaching, in this. So it’s not totally different. It’s just a little bit more because you’re having to constantly talk to agents, whereas before it was kind of split up. I enjoyed my media time. I enjoy getting in front of the camera, talking to people, give a little bit of insight on what I think might happen and the reason why, so I think anything I’m involved with I have passion for, I enjoy it. So I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now.
Right now, everywhere I walk, around the city, wherever I go, there seems to be a lot of excitement. A lot of people are excited about what can happen, so what I am, I’m excited about being able to give them something they can really come to the game and see, a passion that they can really let their hearts out and cheer and have some fun.
FSN: Have you come any closer on a decision to bring in a separate general manager?
SAUNDERS: I’m waiting until after July to see how things go (in free agency). I might do something this year, and I might not. I’m gonna kind of wait and see. I’m not putting any timetable on anything, so we’ll wait and see what happens.
FSN: If you do do something with that, then what does your role become?
SAUNDERS: My role’s not gonna be diminished. What it’s gonna be is someone to really help with all the time commitments and also help from maybe giving us some of the logistic things down below. I think the one thing that’s a little bit different that I look at is having been in this market for so long, having been here for 10 years, there’s a lot of demands on me from media or to go out and speak, go out to events, go out to sponsorships or those, and so if I’m gonna do a lot of those to try to help the team, promote the team, sell tickets, sell sponsorships, well then I might need someone else to help out on some of the day-to-day things so I can get out and do those things.
FSN: You held an individual pre-draft workout with (potential first-round pick) C.J. McCollum earlier this week. What’d you think?
SAUNDERS: I thought he was good. He was what everyone knows he is: He can shoot the basketball. (He was) one of the most efficient guys this past year until he got hurt. He does something that we’re looking to do, and that’s shooting. We’ll have to wait and see how everything plays out here. Everyone’s active. It’s very interesting because we talk a lot about trades as far as people trading up into that top five or six, and I believe, when it’s all said and done, that everyone is gonna stay pat. It seems the closer we get that everyone seems to be falling more in love with their guys that they can get at those picks.
FSN: That’s the vibe you’ve been getting when talking to other GMs?
SAUNDERS: Yeah, and I’ve always thought that. The No. 1 pick hasn’t been traded in over 20 years. That just doesn’t happen.
FSN: Do you have any update on (head coach) Rick (Adelman) or his wife (Mary Kay, who suffered a series of seizures during the 2012-13 season)?
SAUNDERS: They’re doing the same. My assumption is that he’s going to be back. In between my years (as a head coach), no one asked me if I was coming back or not. There was some speculation, because it happened before. But Rick and I, we talk a lot. I just got a bunch of tapes done for him; he wanted to see some of the stuff that I did offensively with Kevin Garnett to try and see if they can incorporate some of that stuff for Kevin Love. So I think everything, right now, is just pointed towards his excitement about next year, about our team and getting ready for the season.
FSN: You said earlier this week you’ve identified four guards you wouldn’t mind taking with the ninth overall pick. At this point, we’re a week out from the draft. Where are you at as far as how close you are to a decision?
SAUNDERS: We’ve identified guards. We’ve also identified some big guys that we like. When the time comes at nine, what you do is you look and you see. There’s a talent pool. You look and see if there’s a greater talent than your need, then what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna take the talent. But if the talent and the need are close, you’re gonna go for the need. So we’ll see what happens when that time comes.
We’ve got a board. We’ve got about six boards. My office back there, or what is going to become my office, is pretty much all boarded out.
FSN: Where’s that?
SAUNDERS: We can’t tell you that, because you’ll be trying to sneak back there.
FSN: Do you have a prediction tonight (for Game 7 of the NBA Finals)?
SAUNDERS: I picked Miami Oct. 30, so I’m not backing off. San Antonio, they still have that pit in their stomach right now, because they had that game won. It was one of those situations that San Antonio had to do everything wrong in those last 25 seconds, and Miami had to do everything perfect. And that’s what happened. Sometimes, that happens in the game of basketball and why people love to watch it, so it’s going to be an exciting game tonight. Game 7s are the only game that both teams have a great amount of pressure. And the pressure at the beginning of the game is totally on San Antonio, but as the game progresses, that pressure, a lot of times, reverts to Miami or to the home team. What I think’s gonna happen tonight — usually in these situations, the best player on the floor is gonna win the game. Whoever’s gonna be the best player on the floor in those last two minutes — whether it’s LeBron, whether it’s Dwyane Wade, whether it’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or (Manu) Ginobli — one of those five guys is gonna bring home the bacon.
FSN: With the way the Spurs have used the D-League, developed international talent — those are things that you have talked about — do you look at them as kind of a blueprint, and do you think the league is looking at them as kind of a blueprint?
SAUNDERS: In some ways, yeah. Here’s the thing you have to understand: The D-League’s a little bit of a misnomer how they used it. They got Danny Green, he got cut and he went to play for Eric Musselman (then the head coach of the D-League’s Reno Bighorns and a former Continental Basketball Association colleague of Saunders’), and then they brought him back. So I think scouting the D-League is important; you have to do that, but not necessarily if you have a (D-League affiliate) does that mean that you’re gonna be good at it. You’ve got to stalk, really, the whole league.
And then in Europe, what (the Spurs) have done, is they’ve got a lot of players that they either got in the second round or made trades for — just kind of throw-in players — and they let those guys develop overseas, and they brought them over when they played over there, and they’ve been successful, whether it was Ginobli or whether it was (Tiago) Splitter. And so everybody’s trying to do that. It’s what happened with us — look what happened with Ricky Rubio. He was developing (in Spain) and then coming over here and now really starting to flourish over here.
FSN: When you were in Europe (for Adidas Eurocamp), you didn’t get a chance to meet with (restricted free-agent center Nikola Pekovic). Have you talked to him anymore?
SAUNDERS: I’ve talked to his people. We can’t really talk about anything until July 1, so we’re gonna wait till July 1 to talk to him, but he’s a high priority for us.
FSN: It’s kind of early; you don’t know exactly what pieces you’re gonna have back, but when you look at next season, what are the goals or how good can you guys be?
SAUNDERS: You know what? I don’t like to put goals on things because I think that puts limitations. When everyone says, ‘You can do this, get into the playoffs,’ well what means to say that we can’t get — when things go right — that we can’t get to the second round of the playoffs? So I don’t like to do that. I don’t think you need to put that pressure on the coach right now or the players. What we want to do — I’ve got one goal: Let’s get our team together, let’s balance our roster, but let’s be healthy. If we can do that, we’re gonna have a lot of excitement over at Target Center, and we’re gonna win a lot of games.
FSN: How aggressive do you think you’re going to be in free agency, in terms of bringing other pieces in?
SAUNDERS: Free agency boils down to what you have money-wise. So we won’t know that until we have an idea what’s gonna happen with Andrei Kirilenko, till we have an idea of where Pekovic is gonna come in, and we’ve got Chase (Budinger). Right now, those free agents are more important for us than any other free agents that are out there.