Glen Taylor has executed some goofy and head-scratching decisions in his long stewardship as Timberwolves owner. This one he got right.
As rumored for weeks, Taylor jettisoned David Kahn as president of basketball operations and replaced him with a new homegrown basketball boss, Flip Saunders.
That’s Step 1 in the organization’s never-ending series of critical offseason makeovers. Step 2 involves veteran coach Rick Adelman returning next season, and one can only assume that news of Saunders’ arrival came with Adelman’s approval.
It stands to reason that Taylor would not proceed down this path without consulting Adelman about a partnership with Saunders in making personnel decisions. The team still hasn’t announced whether Adelman will step away from coaching to focus on his wife’s health, but Thursday’s news of a potential Saunders-Adelman union brought renewed hope for this beleaguered organization.
That’s not to say this move comes without some risk. Saunders is a career coach who now has final say on personnel matters. Coaches and general managers often approach decisions from different perspectives. Saunders will need to develop chemistry and align his overall vision with Adelman, a Hall of Fame coach who maintains significant influence over the operation.
But Saunders brings competency and credibility to his role. The difference between his basketball acumen and Kahn’s can be measured in light years. Saunders knows the game and he has an eye for talent. The draft won’t continue to be such a crapshoot on his watch.
Wolves employees at every level can trust that Saunders knows how to evaluate talent. They felt the opposite with Kahn. A litany of injuries sabotaged the past two seasons and can’t be placed solely at Kahn’s feet, but the totality of his tenure and collection of draft-night misses left Taylor with no choice but to part ways.
Kahn always tried to be the smartest guy in the room, which is bearable when a person is a) really, really good at his job or b) actually the smartest guy in the room. Kahn’s arrogance just served to alienate people and make him an easy target for criticism.
The Wolves had to turn the page and Saunders’ ties to the organization and close relationship with Taylor should make for a smooth transition. A meaty to-do list awaits his arrival.
Adelman’s future is the top priority. That answer should come shortly. But the team also needs to re-sign bruising center Nikola Pekovic, convince Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger to return and decide whether to trade or keep Derrick Williams.
In the big picture, Saunders must sell his vision to star forward Kevin Love, who has dropped hints that he will exercise his opt-out clause in 2015. Kahn angered Love by declining to offer him a five-year maximum contract, which resulted in Love’s ill-timed quotes to Yahoo! Sports this season.
The frosty relationship between Love and Kahn became fodder for speculation that Love would carry his grudge on his way out of town at the earliest opportunity. Whether that’s actually true or not, Taylor couldn’t risk losing his best player. Love can walk in two seasons and the team needs to discern whether he wants a long-term future here.
Love’s desire to win remains undeniable. He wants to feel confident in the direction and future of the organization. Now, he must do his part and buy into the team concept completely and lead the way.
The Wolves have had so many things go haywire over the years that any optimism usually comes with a word of caution. But a nucleus of Saunders, Adelman, Love, Rubio and Pekovic gives the organization a solid foundation to build upon. The construction part now rests on Saunders’ shoulders.
His official return to the organization should resonate with fans. Saunders is the only coach to lead the Wolves to the playoffs. He still lives in town and maintains a visible presence in the basketball community.
Yes, he’s stepping into a new role, but he’s a smart basketball man. That’s a good start.