Timberwolves to replace Kahn with Saunders

MINNEAPOLIS — It turns out the reason Flip Saunders reportedly turned down a coaching job at his alma mater may have been that had his sights set on bigger things.

The Associated Press is reporting that Saunders will be named the Minnesota Timberwolves’ next president of basketball operations but that the deal is not yet signed. He would replace former president David Kahn, whose contract included a team option for the 2013-14 season that the Timberwolves have confirmed will not be picked up. The team will hold a 10:30 a.m. Friday press conference to introduce Kahn’s replacement.

Saunders, 58, spent 10 seasons as the head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995-2004. He led Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2003. Saunders later went on to coach the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards for three seasons each and led the Pistons to the playoffs in each of his three years there.

Since he was fired by Washington just 17 games into the 2011-12 season, Saunders has served as an NBA analyst on ESPN. He reportedly turned down the head coaching job at the University of Minnesota when the Gophers were looking to replace Tubby Smith at the end of the season. Saunders played college basketball at Minnesota as a point guard from 1973-77 and was later an assistant coach under Gophers coach Jim Dutcher.

Saunders inherits a Timberwolves team that was plagued by injuries this season and finished 31-51 under head coach Rick Adelman. Star forward Kevin Love played in just 18 games, point guard Ricky Rubio was limited to 57 games and forward Chase Budinger missed all but 23 games. The big question this offseason is whether Adelman will return to coach the team again next year. Adelman’s wife, Mary Kay, suffered from seizures during the winter, so much of Adelman’s decision to return will hinge on his wife’s health.

Kahn’s four-year tenure as the Wolves’ president of basketball operations was an interesting one. What may stick with fans most is his first draft in 2009, when he selected three point guards — Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson — in the first round. After taking Rubio at No. 5, Kahn passed on Stephen Curry to take Flynn. Curry, of course, has emerged as a star with the Golden State Warriors while Flynn fizzled out after two underwhelming seasons in Minnesota. Lawson was immediately dealt to Denver following the selection at No. 18.

Though the drafting of Rubio has ultimately looked like a good move, Kahn has also butted heads with Love over the years. Kahn did not give Love the maximum five-year contract in January 2012, instead signing the All-Star four years. At times, the 24-year-old Love has not hidden his frustration with how things unfolded.

Under Kahn, the Timberwolves finished a combined 89-223 and never made the playoffs. He was hired to replace Kevin McHale, who also was the team’s head coach at the time.

“We want to thank David for all of his efforts the past four years with our basketball team,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement released by the team. “These are always difficult decisions, but at this time, we believe it is in the best interest of our organization to make a change. We wish David all the best in the future.”

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