Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
The Wolves' worst-kept secret is no more; Yes, they've officially announced the hiring of Ryan Saunders as assistant coach.
If the name sounds familiar, yes...that's Flip's son, who stayed in Washington working for the Wizards after the team fired his dad a couple years ago.
His Wizards contract expired yesterday, which meant the Wolves' hire became official today -- July 1 -- even though he was spotted observing draft workouts at Target Center weeks ago.
He joins Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe and David Adelman on the coaching staff. No word yet on what the team will do for a player development coach; I suspect Bobby Jackson will not be back in that role.
He played parts of 20 games with the Gophers and was an assistant under Tubby Smith there.
Ryan Saunders brings a statistical analytics background to a coaching staff of old guys. He is co-founder of an in-game analytical program called Gametime Concepts, which, according to the team, is used by a number of NBA and NCAA teams.
I hear Sidney Lowe is in town, a visit that's a prelude to him joining Flip Saunders' staff as an assistant coach.
It's not a done deal yet, but is expected to be sometime soon.
Lowe was an assistant under Flip with the Wolves and Detroit, too. The former North Carolina State worked as an assistant to former Wolves teammate Ty Corbin at Utah this last season.
Also expect Flip's son Ryan to join the staff, but he's under contract with Washington until month's end.
Sam Mitchell is a possibility as well. Last I heard he was considering his options and deciding whether he wants to get back in coaching and continue with his radio/TV commentating gig in both the U.S. and Canada.
The Wolves have pursued European coach Dave Blatt as an assistant, but they've got stiff competition, particularly if Cleveland decides they want him as their head coach. Golden State also wants to add him as top assistant to Steve Kerr.
Depending on what else happens, former Golden State and Sacramento coach Eric Musselman -- whom Saunders once baby sat -- is a possibility as well. He wants to get back into NBA coaching and is weighing a couple college options as well, I'm told, after working for Arizona State last season.
Another possible candidate if Detroit guard Chauncey Billups, if he decides to retire and doesn't pursue a front-office job somewhere. He played for Saunders with the Wolves and the Pistons.
Saying he believed he was the right man at the right time, Flip Saunders officially added the job of Wolves head coach to his existing position as president of basketball operations at a press conference Friday afternoon.
It was a decision that Saunders and owner Glen Taylor said they came to after weeks of trying to fill the vacancy left by Rick Adelman’s decision to retire. But, as Taylor – and Saunders stressed – it was not the first option explored, but rather one that loomed as the coaching search moved forward.
“We never felt we had found the perfect person,” said Taylor, who had been vocal about his desire to keep the two jobs separate. “Or even the near perfect person for the job. So last week we met again, and we came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to serve us well to go another month (into the process). We should sit down and make a decision.’’
And that decision was Saunders, the winningest coach in team history. He coached the team for nine-plus seasons starting in the 1995-96 season and led the team to eight playoff berths. In 2003-04 the team won 58 games and advanced to the Western Conference finals. Later Saunders coached the Detroit Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference Finals. Overall, Saunders has had seven 50-win seasons as an NBA head coach.
Saunders, too, claimed that coaching wasn’t his first option.
But it was one he also came to after what he called an eye-opening coaching search.
“Every team has a right coach at the right time,” Saunders said. “I believe I’m the right guy to coach this team in this situation. It’s time to put my tool belt back on and go to work.”
Both Taylor and Saunders said the move was not made because of the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Love’s future with the team. And Saunders did not say how long he intended to remain as coach, though Taylor did say he hoped to separate the roles again in the future.
Now Saunders will begin to build an assistant coaching staff that will have a blend of experience and the ability develop players. He said it was not necessarily his intention to have a “head coach in waiting’’ on that staff, but said he did hope the staff would include somebody who would develop into a strong candidate.
“I took this job because I think we’re going to be successful,” Saunders said. “It would have been easier for me to hire a coach than to coach. But this is what’s best for the organization. That’s why I’m doing it.”
And, of course, there is one perk to the move.
“I’m pretty sure the coach and the president of basketball operations are going to be on the same page,” Saunders joked. “And that’s pretty important.”
Coaching superagent Warren LeGarie just texted me this message: "Dave has decided to stay in Memphis."
Dave, of course, is his client, Memphis coach Dave Joerger, who spent 2 1/2 hours interviewing with Wolves owner Glen Taylor Saturday in Minneapolis after he interviewed with Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders on Thursday.
So is it real?
Or is it big-time negotating plain and simple?
Two sources close to the situation assure me it is real, that the Grizzlies never intended to let Joerger go without some very real compensation -- swapping the teams' first-round picks (Wolves own No. 13, Grizzles No. 22, plus perhaps more -- that the Wolves aren't willing to give and that Memphis owner Robert Pera has assured Joerger he wants him to stay.
Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders declined comment, as he has about the search since Rick Adelman announced his retirement last month, except to say this:
"Dave was going through the interview process. We had good talks but it became very apparent to both parties that Dave was going to remain in Memphis."
The X factor in all this is Pera, whose team ushered out two front-office executives Monday in a couple of sweeping moves and was believed to be in favor of bringing in a big-name coach.
Who knows? The Grizzlies still could at some point fire Joerger down the line -- anything possible with Memphis -- and the Wolves could still hire him, I suppose.
For now, those sources say the Wolves will continue with their hiring process, which has included interviews with former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, among others.
Wolves are about to tip it off here in Washington against the Wizards in a game that starts another five games-in-seven days stretch.
And there's all kind of storylines here on a night when rookie Shabazz Muhammad again is unavailable because of a sprained right ankle:
Flip Saunders came in early for the game, arriving Sunday to check out the condo he still owns here from his Wizards' coaching days and to visit his son Ryan, a Wizards assistant coach.
A.J. Price is back in the arena where he played last season and hoped to return this season but the Wizards showed no such mutual inclination.
Also here is Wolves GM Milt Newton, a Wizards' executive until Flip hired him away last summer.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman is coaching against the team he once coached both as an assistant and as head coach and chatted with old friend Flip earlier today.
And Kevin Love is playing against the first guy who ever coached him in the NBA, an experience that Love didn't feel too fondly about when Wittman coached him starting in 2008.
Asked if he still hears Wittman yelling "No!" at him now when he shoots threes, Love before tonight's game said, "I'm past that now. That was a long time ago."
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