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Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune file

Souhan: Saunders looking like the best Wolves' coaching candidate

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • May 28, 2014 - 10:06 AM

Joseph Heller’s ‘‘Catch-22’’ is one of the greatest novels ever written about war, and it spawned a catch phrase that has lasted longer than the popularity of the book itself.

One character is trying to prove he’s insane so he can get out of the army during World War II. The army tells him that trying to get out of the army proves he is sane. If he were insane, he wouldn’t mind the war. That’s the Catch-22.

Our beloved Timberwolves have invented the Catch-42, the 42 honoring the jersey number of outgoing star Kevin Love.

The Wolves are trying to hire an intelligent coach. No intelligent coach would want to coach the current Wolves without Love. If a coach agrees to work for the Wolves, he must lack intelligence. That’s the Catch-42.

So it’s time for the Timberwolves to Flip the script.

What stood as the worst of all possible options for the Timberwolves’ coaching search a week ago might now be the best.

Ordering — or would it be allowing? — team President Flip Saunders to take over as head coach for the upcoming season isn’t as lousy an idea as it might seem on the surface, or as it may have seemed just days ago.

The Wolves began their search with what must have been an impressive list of candidates.

They are believed to have had great college coaches such as Tom Izzo, Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan on that list, although the attraction was not reciprocated.

They had the chance to pursue proven NBA coaches George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy and Lionel Hollins.

They settled, finally, on Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who wasn’t just appealing to Saunders and Wolves owner Glen Taylor — as a small-town boy from Minnesota who worked his way through the minor-league coaching ranks, he appeared to be an amalgam of the two.

So Flip chose Joerger, and introduced him to Taylor, who got that ‘‘He’s one of us!’’ gleam in his eye, and it was all over: A last-minute appeal by the Grizzlies pulled Joerger back to Tennessee.

This already has become an offseason emblematic of Timberwolves history.

Bad decision? Yup, the unwillingness to grant Kevin Love a maximum-length contract has led to him being able to force a trade.

Bad timing? Yup, they’re looking for a head coach at a time when their roster, with the imminent departure of Love, appears weak even by Wolves standards.

Bad luck? Yup, they chose a coach who seemed to be on the outs with his organization only to see him plucked away just when Saunders had persuaded Taylor to hire him.

In a typical Timberwolves timeline, the next step would be to overreact to adversity.

This is where Flip should step in.

Taylor will want to hire Sam Mitchell. Mitchell might be a good coach, but he would be hired for the wrong reasons — because Taylor is familiar with Mitchell and desperate for someone willing to wear a whistle.

There might not be an ideal choice remaining for Taylor, but there is one option that could help him avoid another costly mistake:

Let Flip coach for a year.

The team isn’t going to be any good no matter who coaches it, and Flip will have every reason to try to develop young players such as Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, because he drafted them.

If the Wolves trade Love for value and develop a few of their younger players, Flip, a year from now, will either have discovered that he’s an ideal coach for this team, or he will have spent a year conducting an informal coaching search.

Most importantly, Taylor won’t have hired the ninth-best coach on the Wolves’ current wish list to a three-year contract. His options will be open.

At this point, the Wolves are better off trying to avoid a typical mistake than trying to salvage a botched search.

I’d still hire Russian national team coach David Blatt, but he might be too unconventional a hire, and too strong a personality, for Taylor’s taste.

If that’s the case, then Taylor should take his medicine and buy himself a year of planning by letting Flip coach.

Who knows? Maybe by next summer the Wolves will be able to hire someone previously thought to be beyond their grasp.

Like Dwane Casey, or Randy Wittman.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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