This may be a grand moment in Minnesota Timberwolves history.
They may have stumbled upon a decision they cannot mess up.
The Kevin Love trade? Oh, that could be a disaster.
The coaching search? At this point, Flip Saunders could blindfold himself, listen only to Glen Taylor, and pick a candidate from scraps of paper in Crunch’s mouth, and find a good one. In other words, the Wolves might feel free to follow their standard operating procedure.
As devastating as the news appeared at the outset, the fact that the Timberwolves will be forced to trade Love could prove liberating, if the current brain trust is capable of building a team from scratch.
The Wolves have been so horrid throughout their history that they have been forced to treat their only two franchise players, Kevin Garnett and Love, as if they were saviors.
The rest of the NBA considers saviors to be players who carry their teams to postseason success. Garnett’s end-to-end dominance led to victories in exactly two playoff series. Love never has participated in a playoff game. The idea that the Wolves are dependent on star players is silly. When you’ve been as bad as the Wolves have been for as long as they have been bad, you’re not dependent on anyone.
The Wolves need to build a successful franchise brick by brick, and hoping that Love will change his mind and decide that wintering in Minnesota is wonderful is no way to accomplish that. Love’s departure will give team president Saunders an opportunity to prove he’s savvy enough to trade Love for value, and to build the team through the draft, the way it should have been built all along.
That’s the first step to building a sound team: Creating a bidding war for Love.
The second-most important step might tell just as much about Saunders’ leadership capabilities. He gets to pick from an impressive list of coaching candidates.
He could hire George Karl, Lionel Hollins or Scott Skiles and bring a highly regarded, experienced NBA coach to town. That’s the safe route.
He could hire Dave Joerger, the promising Minnesotan who, with his minor league background and enthusiasm, probably reminds Flip of someone very important to Flip: Flip.
Or the Wolves could think outside of the box — and for the Wolves, that’s a very small box holding newspaper clippings about their two playoff series victories, and David Stern’s pronunciation guide to Ndudi Ebi.
They could hire David Blatt.
They could hire someone as hungry as their fan base.
They could hire someone known for making the best of a bad situation, which is what the Wolves are offering.
The Wolves have been managed so poorly for so long they have no choice but to accept their role as perpetual underdogs. Why not hire the quintessential underdog coach?
I met Blatt at the London Olympics, where he coached the Russian basketball team. He didn’t just outcoach almost everyone in that tournament, he became one of the most charismatic and intriguing personalities at the Games other than Usain Bolt.
Blatt played at Princeton under the famous Pete Carril. He played professionally in Israel. He has been the professional coach of the year in Israel and Russia, which he led to a EuroBasket title in 2007 over reigning Euro power Spain.
In 2012, he led an unimpressive Russian roster to the bronze medal in London, and he recently led a mediocre Maccabi Tel Aviv team to a Euroleague championship, a dramatic upset.
Saunders could make a safer choice than Blatt. But the imminent trade of Love allows the Wolves to think long-term. They’re not going to win anything next year without Love. They need to hire a coach who can make the most of a mediocre roster, and build the scaffolding of a winner.
Joerger might remind Flip of himself. Blatt would remind longtime Wolves fans of Bill Musselman, a coach who would fight to keep his team in every game, whatever the odds.
They could do worse.
We have proof.