As of Saturday, it appeared the Timberwolves had their man to become the franchise’s 11th head coach. By Sunday evening, in a turn of events all too indicative of the club’s disappointing history, he’d turned tail and reverted to the southern-plains brushfire he’d hoped to flee.
After a week of rumblings David Joerger was headed home to helm Minnesota turned up nothing but a sweetened deal between the Staples, Minn., native and the Grizzlies, president of basketball operations Flip Saunders is on to Plan C of the team’s coaching search. The first wave of candidates turned him down. The second flamed out when the question of compensation arose between Memphis and Timberwolves brass and volatile Grizzlies owner Robert Pera sweet-talked Joerger into staying just days after reportedly wanting him out of town.
With the list of candidates shrinking and the 2014 NBA Draft less than a month away, the hunt is on once again.
Now that Joerger’s off the table, it’s officially time to start considering Saunders himself as a potential replacement for Rick Adelman, who retired in May after three middling seasons in the Twin Cities. At last check, Saunders had said he’s an unlikely possibility, and owner Glen Taylor remained steadfast he’d rather have his chief personnel officer focus on assembling talent than developing it.
But that was before this coaching expedition turned into a wild goose chase.
The Timberwolves, per reports, also have interviewed former Timberwolves player and Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell and Lionel Hollins, whom Joerger replaced in Memphis last offseason. But how willing are either of them to take a job for which they were essentially passed over? With the future of Kevin Love weighing down the organization, to boot?
At 638-526 (411-326 in 10 seasons with the Timberwolves), Saunders has the most extensive coaching experience of the trio. Moreover, he’s the only head man in franchise history to lead Minnesota to the postseason, including the 2004 Western Conference finals.
But he’d have to decide if he truly wants to delve back into the coaching ranks, not to mention convince Taylor he can handle two sets of duties (general manager Milt Newton could help, of course). Then again, that may not be as difficult with the way the search has progressed — or, rather, regressed — and with Love’s situation hanging in the balance.
Even if he’s a short-term stopgap, Saunders could bring stability to the team by terminating the search, assuming the reins and focusing his energy toward either convincing Love to stay in town — the stubborn, idealistic notion the team has produced publicly since Saunders took over — or maximizing the returns on a trade involving him — the much more realistic scenario.
Unless he and Taylor decide to go with Mitchell, Hollins or another candidate.
Before talks with Joerger emerged, Mitchell, 50, looked like a top potential hire given his ties to Minnesota and Saunders. An original Timberwolves player from 1989-92, the power forward came back and played out the final seven years of his career in Minneapolis under Saunders’ direction.
The current television and radio NBA analyst coached the Raptors from 2004-09, compiling a 156-189 record. His Chris Bosh and Anthony Parker-led teams made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, bowing out in the first round each time.
Hollins has more postseason success on his resume. The 60-year-old led Memphis to three straight playoff berths from 2010-13, including the Western Conference last season.
But Hollins will reportedly interview for the vacant Lakers job, diminishing his chances of coming to Minnesota.
Had college coaches Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan opted to spurn their current positions for a chance at the NBA, the chase for the club’s next coach might have been over weeks ago. But Hoiberg didn’t need much convincing to remain at his beloved Iowa State, Izzo decided to stay at Michigan State after several conversations with his friend Saunders, and Donovan told the Associated Press last week he plans on being back at Florida next season.