AP Sources: Minnesota Timberwolves widen coaching search
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves are opening up their search for a permanent head coach, and that process will begin with candidates outside the organization, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Sam Mitchell has served on an interim basis for the season, leading the Timberwolves to 12 more victories than they had last season as they go into the season finale against New Orleans on Wednesday night.
However, the team's list of candidates includes ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, the two people told AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not publicly disclosed its plans to replace Flip Saunders, who died in October.
Owner Glen Taylor has hired search firm Korn Ferry to help in the search for a new coach, one that could end up giving the coach executive powers as well. Also up in the air is the status of general manager Milt Newton, whom Taylor said would oversee the draft and free agency this summer.
Saunders held both the coach and president of basketball operations titles and candidates like Van Gundy, whose brother Stan holds dual roles in Detroit. Thibodeau could push for executive positions as well.
Taylor has known Mitchell since his playing days and has a history of being loyal to those who have worked for him in some capacity. But he hired Korn Ferry and appears to be intent on opening his wallet to land some high-profile leadership to help end the Wolves' 12-year playoff drought.
The job or jobs, depending on who is hired, figure to be among of the most attractive on the market this spring with promising youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine headlining an athletic group. The Wolves also have a new practice facility and are beginning renovations on Target Center.
Mitchell was thrust into the head coaching job just days before the season after Saunders died following a battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Following a rocky January, Mitchell made several key adjustments, has had a big role in developing the team's copious young talent and has the Wolves finishing with a sense of momentum.
''I talked with him the most out of all the assistants,'' Wiggins said Tuesday on the team's final day of practice this season. ''And this year he was the head coach, so I already had that relationship with him. So it's good.''
The Wolves won three straight games on the road last week, including an overtime victory at defending NBA champion Golden State. A 14-17 record over the last six weeks was considered an encouraging sign for Mitchell.
For a coach who got the job under the most tragic of circumstances and endured a miserable stretch of 20 losses in 23 games into January, it's been a crucial turnaround. The Timberwolves were 14-36 after a loss to the lowly Lakers on Feb. 2. Players were frustrated by the losing and Mitchell wasn't helping his public approval rating with fans who watched his combative pregame and postgame press conferences.
Right before the All-Star break, Mitchell made the shift to playing his young players even more and the Wolves jettisoned veterans Andre Miller and Kevin Martin to free up even more minutes for LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones.
A new starting lineup with LaVine at shooting guard and Gorgui Dieng at power forward next to Towns helped the Timberwolves morph. With Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett in the lineup, they had relied more on defense and scoring in the halfcourt. After going to a more dynamic, vibrant unit, the Wolves got out in transition and used Ricky Rubio's strengths as an open-floor passer to get the ball to Wiggins, LaVine and Towns on the break.
''It's been huge,'' Wiggins said of the guidance from Mitchell and the rest of the coaches. ''They put me in positions to succeed. They've never steered me wrong.''