Joerger coaching Wolves would be ‘dream come true’

David Joerger grew up in Staples, Minn. and played basketball at Concordia College and Moorhead State before coaching for years in minor-league basketball. Thus, coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves would be a definite thrill.  

Nelson Chenault

The first time David Joerger returned to his home state as an NBA head coach, his excitement was uncontainable.

"I can’t really describe it," the Staples, Minn., native told local media when the Timberwolves hosted Memphis on Jan. 31. "It’s home."  

That was one day, a singular benchmark on a long, winding road.

The way things are looking, Joerger may return to his home state on a more permanent basis.

While charging up his lawnmower near Henning, Minn., David’s father Joe Joerger told his son is flying into Minnesota on Thursday.

Multiple media reports this week say David Joerger will interview for the Timberwolves’ vacant head coaching position, with ESPN’s Marc Stein reporting the team has made "significant progress" in hiring the first-year head man away from the Grizzlies.

What’s not news is that David Joerger — and his family — couldn’t be more thrilled at the notion.

"This would be a dream come true to him if everything was a nice fit," said Joe Joerger, who is now retired and lives near Henning. "It’s something he’s grown up with, the Timberwolves being here and so on. It’s quite a challenge just to be in the NBA and to be one of those head coaches is pretty neat, too. He’s paid his dues knows, he knows what it’s all about, and I’m sure he would look forward to it if everything is set out right."

David Joerger grew up in Staples and played basketball at Concordia College and Moorhead State before becoming an assistant to the International Basketball Association’s Dakota Wizards. Following 13 years in that position, he became the club’s head coach in 2000 and oversaw over a championship that year and a move to the Continental Basketball Association — which merged teams from the IBA, International Basketball League and CBA — the following offseason. He’d go on to win four more titles as the Wizards’ head honcho, including the 2007 NBA Developmental League crown (he coached the CBA’s Sioux Fall SkyForce for two seasons before returning to the Wizards, which had since moved to the D-League).

In 2011, he became Lionel Hollins’ top assistant in Memphis. Two years later, he took over for Hollins, fired after leading the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals.

That would be quite a thrill. We’re sure hoping and praying for it.

Joe Joerger, on the possibility of his son, Dave, coaching the Timberwolves

It’s a path remarkably similar to the one Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders took to the profession’s pinnacle. Saunders spent years coaching the SkyForce before coaching Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff berths.

As a young, aspiring coach, Joerger used to attend Timberwolves practices and take notes.

"He’s an eager learner; let’s put it that way," said Joe Joerger, who last December retired after decades as an educator and coach in the Staples school system. "You go where you can go and do what you can do with what you have, and if it meant going to clinics in Minnesota or clinics wherever, if you could afford, it you went. When Flip made himself available, Dave listened to him."

"The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told 92.9 FM in Memphis. "After having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owes it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota, to discuss this opportunity, and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard."

It’s a second straight tumultuous offseason for the Grizzlies, whom Joerger led to a 50-32 record this past season. Owner Robert Pera fired CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash and is said to want a big-name coach in place rather than Joerger.

So Saunders and Memphis brass are purportedly in discussions to figure out what type of compensation package to give the Grizzlies in exchange for Joerger. Teams can trade draft picks and/or cash for coaches, and the Timberwolves have three second-round choices in the upcoming draft.

Former Raptors coach and original Timberwolves member Sam Mitchell has been mentioned as another top prospect for the Timberwolves job, but his name hasn’t gathered nearly as much steam as Joerger’s. Stan Van Gundy (hired by Detroit) and college coaches Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan originally ranked near the top of Saunders’ list, but all three have expressed little interest in leaving their current positions.

Just Thursday, Florida-based Associated Press writer Mark Long tweeted Donovan is "all but guaranteed" to stay with the Gators.

It leaves the door wide open for Joerger, who reportedly wants out of Memphis in the fallout another offseason overhaul.

He’d have to deal with heavy questions surrounding the future of Kevin Love and a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years. But home is home. And there’s a good chance Joerger’s coming back.

"That would be quite a thrill," Joe Joerger said. "We’re sure hoping and praying for it."

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