For Wolves' sake, bring back Flip, Mr. Taylor

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 18, 2008 - 7:08 AM

Wolves owner Glen Taylor should rehire former coach Flip Saunders and give him the authority to manage the roster.

Flip Saunders

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There are few things more beneficial to the human spirit than burying the hatchet. Even a crotchety sportswriter has been successful in this area on a rare occasion.

Glen Taylor would be wise to attempt such reconciliation, both for the satisfaction it could bring personally and for the boost it could provide for an NBA franchise that is now competing with the soccer-playing Thunder in terms of relevancy on the Twin Cities sports scene.

Taylor should place a call this week -- this morning, actually -- to the Medina home of Phil and Deborah Saunders and ask the man of the house for a sitdown.

Flip Saunders was fired on Feb. 12, 2005, 51 games into his 10th season as the Timberwolves coach. It was the year after the trip to the Western Conference finals, the Wolves were 25-26 and basketball boss Kevin McHale convinced owner Taylor that the athletes no longer were responding to Saunders.

Saunders was bitter over the decision of his former pal McHale to pull the plug during the first seriously rough patch of his coaching tenure. Flip landed in Detroit, where the Pistons won 64, 53 and 59 games in his three seasons, and where he took several opportunities to take sideways shots at the basketball acumen of McHale and Taylor.

McHale and Taylor have responded with occasional volleys aimed at Saunders. It was back in 2002 that Chauncey Billups left as a free agent, and you still can get members of the Wolves' brain trust to harrumph at the mention of Saunders' name and say:

"Flip's the reason Billups didn't come back. He wouldn't promise Chauncey a starting job."

The time has come for Taylor to ignore the back-and-forth backbiting, make the call and ask for the meeting.

Saunders was fired after last season for failing to get the Pistons through the Eastern Conference finals for a third year in a row. Obviously, that's a franchise with high standards -- 176 regular-season victories and 30 playoff victories in three years and the coach is out the door.

Flip is so bored without an NBA sideline to work in November that he was spotted walking past the Metrodome's football pressbox before a recent Vikings game.

You keep hearing he's waiting around to see if Tubby Smith departs in Holtzian fashion (two and done) for a place such as Arizona, thus allowing Saunders to return to his alma mater.

I don't buy it. Flip has been out of recruiting for two decades. Why would he want to get back into that mess?

Saunders never did buy the main reason McHale offered for his firing -- that the team had stopped listening to him. And the current coach, Randy Wittman, regularly analyzes defeat with admissions of being unable to get through to his players.

OK, Saunders had a veteran group in 2005 and this is a young roster, but that doesn't change Wittman's postgame reviews such as the one offered after a loss in Sacramento:

"We're not committed individually, and we're not committed as a team defensively. ... If I get my touches, that's all they're concerned about.

"We have some guys who have been two, three, four, five years in the league that have lost. At some point, your pride has to kick in, your heart has to kick in."

So, what he's actually telling the sporting public is this, right? "I'm the coach. Through my best efforts, we are offering a team that is selfish, confused and heartless."

Wittman is 35-98 (.263) as coach of the Wolves and 97-200 (.327) including Cleveland. That's the fourth-poorest winning percentage in NBA history for a coach with 290-plus games.

This woebegone operation needs credibility. Firing Wittman and replacing him with Fred Hoiberg as coach offers none. Firing Wittman and continuing to cede all personnel power to McHale offers none.

It's time for Taylor to call Medina and make this offer to a coach with a .597 winning percentage in the NBA: Flip, you come back as coach, Hoiberg gets the GM title but you make the roster decisions, and we let McHale save some face as a "special adviser" -- with no advice needed.

What do you say, Glen? Bury the hatchet and put a breath of life back in your franchise.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com

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