Coach in place, but still a lot of pieces to Wolves’ puzzle
MINNEAPOLIS — In an offseason full of weighty implications, Flip Saunders views his self-appointment as one step toward stability.
But, by his own definition, the Timberwolves have light years to go.
"The question is, do you gain your stability initially through your coach?" Saunders mused after being introduced as Minnesota’s new head coach last week. "Do you gain it through players? How do you do that? So I think until you really get to a point where you’re a legitimate contender, that’s when you get your stability."
As of June 10, 2014, Minnesota is nowhere close.
First and foremost, plugging the coaching gap left by Rick Adelman’s retirement isn’t expected to sway star power forward Kevin Love back toward considering another go-round with the Timberwolves after six measly, playoff-bereft seasons during which he’s grown into one of the NBA’s most formidable athletes. By most accounts, Love wants out, and until the Timberwolves either him or somehow bring him back on board, the entire roster is "up in the air," to use Saunders’ words.
And after spending most of last season — his first in place as president of basketball operations — clamoring for Love to stay instead of opting out after next season, Saunders has changed tactics.
Love has gone from an indispensable cog to a situation that needs resolving.
Saunders told KFAN 100.3 last week Love has no right to be frustrated, even after former president David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor withheld from him a maximum extension in 2012. "Why does any player have a right to be frustrated?" Saunders said on air. "You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution."
Earlier Friday, Saunders made it clear he’d decided to coach independent of what Love thought about the move. "We did the decision based on what was best for our team," Saunders said. "We did not take into consideration what kind of impact it would have on any of our players. So that’s the decision that we made."
Not exactly another Love sales pitch.
Even further evidence of the Timberwolves’ persistent volatility is the Saunders move itself. Taylor still bristles at the idea of one man coaching and managing his club, and Saunders said he and the owner will meet after the season to evaluate the coaching situation.
They could be instituting a search all over again a year from now. Or perhaps tabbing a coach in waiting.
"This is step-by-step," Saunders said. "I don’t want to really put a timeline on it."
Timelines put basketball executives on the public hook to deliver. But they also illustrate the presence of a firm plan in place.
The Timberwolves still don’t have one.
Trade Love, and the organization goes one direction. Groom an assistant to take over at this time in 2015, and it goes another.
And that’s not even to mention the draft in 16 days, where Minnesota holds the 13th overall pick and a trio of second-rounders. It has roughly $6 million to spend in free agency with Love still on the roster, too.
This isn’t on par with other clubs under new direction.
The Knicks now have a set framework under which to operate — Phil Jackson runs the show, newly hired coach Derek Fisher lays the groundwork as head coach. So does Detroit — Stan Van Gundy is under contract as the Pistons’ be-all, end-all when it comes to both coaching and building the roster. Golden State’s on a similar plane — continue to develop the talent present while Steve Kerr establishes the cordial front-office synergy Mark Jackson never could.
Minnesota, meanwhile, remains a franchise in flux.
"We were 40-42 and didn’t make the playoffs" last season, Saunders said. "It’s not like we’ve got a team that went to the conference finals coming back. So our decision going forward was how much can we get better individually working with our players in conjunction with an influx of more talent?"
The sails aren’t pointing the ship in any one direction. And the crew on deck is starting to realize that.
"Before I came to Minnesota," point guard Ricky Rubio told NBA.com during the weekend, "the season before they won, like, 17 games. I was a little scared when I went there. I’m coming from Europe, where I was playing in Barcelona. I think we lost six games or seven games in two seasons, and every loss was a disaster.
"I don’t want to go through a process like every win is something special."
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