Wolves bring in Lowe for another go-around as assistant coach
MINNEAPOLIS — Sidney Lowe’s basketball career was over.
The stocky point guard had been away from the game for nearly two seasons after falling from the NBA ranks to the Continental Basketball Association. As he mulled calling it quits for good one day in the winter of 1989, his phone rang.
Lowe answered to hear rookie CBA coach and longtime friend Flip Saunders on the other line, asking him to finish out the season with his 1988-89 Rapid City Thrillers. "I said ‘I think I’m done,’" Lowe told reporters after a Timberwolves pre-draft workout Friday.
But Saunders pled with him to help his team, only for its playoff push. Lowe agreed, only to find out he needed seven regular-season games under his belt to be eligible for postseason play.
The Thrillers had seven games left. So Lowe had a flight to catch. It was delayed, so he didn’t show up for the first contest until halftime.
After helping Saunders’ bunch to a first-round sweep, Lowe was out to dinner with some of his teammates. At that moment, he found out he’d been called up to the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, with whom he signed a pair of 10-day contracts to finish out the season.
Then came his free-agent signing with the newly minted Minnesota Timberwolves and the ensuing long, winding coaching journey that seems to always lead him back to the Twin Cities.
But without that phone call from Saunders, Lowe may never have gone on to spend the rest of his career coaching hoops.
"My God, who knows?" Lowe mused Friday after being announced as the Wolves’ newest — and oldest — assistant. "Hopefully I would’ve still been somewhere, maybe an analyst or something.
"I think God knew what He was doing."
Friday, Lowe came back to the start.
Saunders’ first assistant hiring comes as no surprise. Since he took over coaching duties a week ago, it’s been reported he’d bring on Lowe, also a former assistant of his, along with former player Sam Mitchell.
"I have great respect for Sid," Saunders said in a release. "He has a great basketball mind and an extensive coaching background as a head and assistant coach in both the NBA and collegiate levels, which will be extremely valuable on our staff."
Mitchell’s contract has yet to be finalized. But Lowe is back in the fold for a fifth time.
A Jazz assistant the past three years, Lowe was in search of work after Utah fired head coach Tyrone Corbin, another original Wolves player. Lowe will coach with Saunders for a fourth time after joining him in Minnesota on two separate occasions (1999-2000, 2003-05) and once in Detroit (2005-06).
It was Lowe who reached out first when Saunders decided last week he’d take over for retired Rick Adelman. The two maintain a regular dialogue, Lowe said, but Saunders hadn’t given him any prior indication he’d be coaching the team — an exhaustive search didn’t turn up any candidates more viable than Saunders himself, the president of basketball operations and owner Glen Taylor concluded.
Lowe joins a franchise in flux. Saunders isn’t sure how long he’ll coach, Kevin Love seemingly wants to bolt for a winner and Minnesota hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 seasons.
But none of that was enough to turn Lowe off to returning.
"I feel that it’s in good hands," he said when asked about the state of the organization. "(Saunders) asked me what did I think, and I said ‘I’m coming, no matter what, I’m coming.’
"It didn’t matter what was out there. When he called me back, it was done."
Lowe served one season as the Timberwolves head coach, 1993-94, and also was the Grizzlies bench leader from 2000-02. From 2006-11, he delved into the college ranks as North Carolina State’s head man.
Originally selected in the second round of the 1983 NBA Draft, Lowe played for the Pacers, Pistons and Hawks before spending the middle portion of his playing tenure in the CBA. Inaugural Wolves coach Bill Musselman brought Lowe and a handful of others over from the CBA in 1989-90, and Lowe played one season before finally retiring.
A year later, he came back to Minnesota as an assistant for two seasons, then assumed the head coaching reins from Jimmy Rodgers midway through the 1992-93 campaign. Lowe coached one full season, leading Minnesota to a record of 33-102 in his time as head coach.
He spent 1994-99 as an assistant in Cleveland before Saunders hired his old CBA pal. After two seasons as Memphis’ head coach, Lowe reunited with Saunders and followed him to Detroit after Wolves president Kevin McHale fired Saunders.
He’s a "totally different" leader than when he started out, he said.
"Just in the sense of experience and understanding the changes that have occurred over those years," Lowe said. "The change in the players, the change in the style of play, the different philosophies. So I’ve had a great opportunity to learn."
Lowe is 79-228 as an NBA head coach. His NC State teams went a combined 86-78 and never reached the NCAA tournament.
The Washington, D.C. native also played his college hoops in Raleigh, running the point for Jim Valvano’s Cinderella 1983 national championship team. In parts of four NBA seasons, he averaged 2.9 points and 3.9 assists per game.
His wealth of basketball experience, Saunders said, has benefited his interactions with those in his charge.
"Sid relates well with players," Saunders said, "and will play an important role in the development of talent on our roster."
Bringing the Payne: Love may be on his way out the door, but depending how the June 26 NBA Draft shakes out, another stretch four could be on the way in.
On my way to Minnesota✈️🙏
— Adreian Payne (@Adreian_Payne) June 13, 2014
Michigan State forward Adreian Payne wasn’t one of the six prospects that worked out Friday at the Target Center. But he tweeted Thursday he was in Minnesota, and it’s reasonable to assume he has an upcoming draft workout with the Wolves.
Standing 6-foot-10 and weighing 239 pounds, the former Spartan may be available when Minnesota picks 13th overall.
"It’s crazy watching him develop over his years at Michigan State," said Ohio state forward LaQuinton Ross, who worked out for the Wolves on Friday and matched up against Payne for three Big Ten seasons. "He went from a real raw kid coming in to real athletic to one of the best guys in the country this last year."
Ok I'm in Minnesota what should I get to eat???
— Adreian Payne (@Adreian_Payne) June 13, 2014
Another player who stayed in college for four years did work out for Saunders on Friday. Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier joined Ross, Miami guard Rion Brown, Penn State guard Tim Frazier, Oregon State forward Eric Moreland and St. Joseph’s forward Ronald Roberts at the Target Center.
Napier, who led UConn to a national championship, would likely be available to Minnesota at 13. But he projects as a low-20s prospect and may be a reach; plus, the Wolves have more pressing needs on the wing than at the point at the moment.
Since taking over as coach, Saunders has decided not to publicize pre-draft workouts but relented Friday in order to make Lowe available to the media.
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