Saunders says he's in with or without Love

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2014 - 12:55 AM

 

To hear Glen Taylor and Flip Saunders tell it, Friday’s announcement of the Timberwolves’ next head coach had both nothing and everything to do with Kevin Love’s uncertain future.

In essentially naming himself that next coach while remaining the team’s president of basketball operations, Saunders said, “With every team, there’s a right coach at the right time in the right situation, and I believe that’s where we are right now, that I’m the right guy for this team in this situation.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that he will do both jobs for at least one season because it’s the best way left to convince Love that he belongs here beyond June 2015.

Instead, Saunders and team owner Taylor agreed he’s the right guy because he’s experienced and adaptable enough to lead the team no matter what happens.

Both men said Love’s situation didn’t affect the decision to name Saunders coach after he interviewed such NBA coaches as Dave Joerger, Lionel Hollins, Sam Mitchell and Scott Skiles and pursued TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy and college coaches Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg, as well.

Love can leave the Wolves without compensation in July 2015 and has given no indication so far that he plans to do anything but that.

But on Friday, both men also began to change the narrative, with Saunders pushing the merits of team unity and equality over what he called the attributes of the “lone warrior.” Taylor, meanwhile, acknowledged the possibility of forthcoming change even as he noted the stability he expects Saunders to bring.

“When you have a team, you never know what trade opportunities might happen in the future, no matter what coach you bring in,” Taylor said. “You get the best coach you can get with the team you have, and you move forward and you make the other decisions as you move along.”

Saunders said he didn’t want to require a young coach or an NBA assistant coach to learn on the job and possibly deal daily, too, with the sideshow Love’s return to the team next season could present.

He also chose not to hire a veteran coach who might be “set in their ways” and signed to a hefty multiyear contract with a roster that could change notably any day.

“What we did not want to do is bring in a coach who was going to be pigeonholed on a certain style of play with the players we have,” Saunders said, “and then all of a sudden maybe that changes.”

Saunders said Friday’s decision was not made with any of the team’s other issues — Love’s uncertain situation, the development of young players Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng or Nikola Pekovic’s suspect good health — in mind because any or all of it is subject to change.

“It was made based on what’s best for us as a team, whether we make trades or we don’t,” said Saunders, who added his time coaching in basketball’s minor leagues taught him how to adapt to whatever players he has.

He said he is comfortable with keeping his team’s roster as is while adding the 13th overall pick in this month’s draft and signing a free agent with a nearly $6 million salary-cap slot. He said he’s equally comfortable making a trade or trades if he can improve the team. Either way, he says his team must get tougher and better defensively, which could include playing more zone defense.

“I’m not comfortable taking a step backwards,” said Saunders, whose team went 40-42 last season. “The most important thing is we want to win.”

That still could include trading Love for draft picks and/or current NBA players in an upcoming draft that Saunders deems is at least 19 players deep. Coincidentally, Chicago — a team believed ready to pursue Love aggressively — owns the draft’s 16th and 19th picks.

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