Glen Taylor said the Timberwolves would be healthier with the hiring of a top-notch coach while Flip Saunders concentrates on his duties as president of basketball operations, but the team owner won’t object if Saunders continues to coach into the immediate future.
“I’d like to hire a very good coach [for the long term],” Taylor said. “I haven’t talked about it with Flip as far as next year, but if he wanted to coach he certainly would be allowed to coach.”
Saunders won’t talk about next year, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he loves to coach and will do so for this squad in the 2015-16 season and for as long as Taylor permits him to do so. “I love coaching,” Saunders has said many times.
Saunders and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo are very close, and talk often during the basketball season. And if Izzo decides to go to the NBA, he would be a candidate to coach the Wolves. A few years back, Izzo turned down the opportunity to coach the Detroit Pistons for a fantastic salary and made it clear that he was going to finish his coaching career at Michigan State. But because of Izzo’s close relationship with Saunders, the Spartans coach could have a change of heart.
But it is my personal opinion that if anyone is going to take over the team soon, it will be Sam Mitchell, a Wolves assistant who was the NBA Coach of the Year with the Toronto Raptors in 2006-07.
It has been a busy year for Taylor, and he said that while the Wolves will lose money this year, he plans to keep investing in the roster and hopes to bring back Kevin Garnett next season.
Besides being the owner of the Wolves, he also is the chairman of the NBA Board of Governors and is on several owners committees. He was in New York on Wednesday to sign a big NBA television contract with Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.
Recalls Wiggins trade
Taylor recently recalled the details of the Timberwolves trade for Andrew Wiggins, and said that the team was having trouble getting the Cavaliers to agree to a deal for Kevin Love that included Wiggins this past offseason. But a conversation with Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert changed the trajectory of that deal.
“[Timberwolves General Manager] Milt [Newton] and Flip had talked to Cleveland about getting Wiggins and they did not want to trade him and they told him they weren’t going to,” Taylor recalled. “I wanted to go directly to the owner, and I said exactly what you just said, ‘We’re not going to do the trade unless Wiggins is included.’
“Then [Gilbert] said to me, ‘Would you give me permission to talk to Kevin Love before we make the trade? I personally want to talk to him.’ I said, ‘Absolutely, I think you have every right to do that.’ So he had a talk with Kevin Love and he came back and said, ‘OK, I’ll do the trade.’ ”
Wiggins has blossomed into a star and is the leading candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per contest over his past 48 games while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 31.0 percent on three-pointers.
Taylor said that Saunders was extremely high on Wiggins and had scouted him throughout last season.
“Flip had just done a lot of traveling himself this last year as GM, so he went out and saw those guys,” Taylor said. “Flip really liked Wiggins. He was very excited about the opportunity.”
One of the benefits of getting a 19-year-old rookie like Wiggins is that his contract is under team control for at least five years, compared to Love, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and could make a lot more money.
“[Wiggins] was drafted No. 1, so he still gets up in that $5-$6 million [per year], but it isn’t up in that range with Kevin where we’re talking about $17 million,” Taylor said. “Well, he’ll have three years regular, then the fourth year he’ll get a pretty good bump and then after that he becomes a restricted free agent, that’s five years from now.”
No regrets over Love
Does Taylor have any regrets looking back at all that happened with Love?
“No I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “It’s what Kevin Love really wanted. You always want to have your players want to be at your place and be happy. He was a star player, and I think Andrew Wiggins has a lot of potential. Within a fairly short time he could probably catch up to Kevin Love or surpass him.”
•According to ESPN reports, the Dallas Cowboys’ decision to renegotiate Tony Romo’s contract to gain $12.8 million in salary cap doesn’t necessarily mean they can simply trade for Adrian Peterson and absorb his $12.75 million salary. The Cowboys have to pay Rolando McClain $1.7 million, a potential $8.09 million in roster bonuses to Greg Hardy and around another $1.7 million to sign seven draft picks. So if the Cowboys were to trade for Peterson, he would have to take a pay cut.
• Gregg Marshall, the Wichita State basketball coach who turned down an offer from Alabama, got a raise from $1.75 million to $3 million per season to stay with the Shockers. Word is that Alabama is going to offer in the area of $4 million per season to whomever they sign as a head coach.
Gophers head coach Richard Pitino still is rumored to be a target for the job, and he is currently making $1.2 million per season and will get a $400,000 bonus if he is still coach in 2016.
• What will give Wisconsin a deeper bench and a better chance of beating Kentucky in the Final Four is the return to action of former starter Traevon Jackson, who missed two months because of a broken foot and has played in 17 games and is averaging 8.6 points per game. A year ago in the Final Four, Jackson made two free throws with 16 seconds left to give the Badgers a 73-71 lead over Kentucky. But Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer to beat the Badgers.
• Garnett has been working out recently and is recovering from the flu, and he could play some before the season ends. … On the other hand, Ricky Rubio played in all 82 games last year, but has played in only 22 this year and isn’t likely to play again this year. … Kevin Martin, who has missed 42 games, could play Friday.
• Josh Cunningham, a 6-7 forward from Chicago who played at Bradley this season, is transferring after averaging 7.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Cunningham was the 88th overall prospect in the country last season and was recruited by the Gophers, so there’s a chance they could try and get him back on campus.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org