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.
Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders spoke at some length today about Thursday’s draft. And while much of his time was spent reiterating company lines we’ve already heard on a number of subjects (including Kevin Love’s immediate future), there were some nuggets to be had.
First let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Saunders isn’t tipping his hand in regards to Love, but it didn’t prevent reporters from asking about it today.
He was asked if he’d talked with Love lately.” I talk to all of our players,’’ he responded.
Saunders was asked about the prospects of trading Love by Thursday night. “I’ve been saying it for four weeks,” Saunders said. “I feel comfortable with the guys that we have. If we can get something that makes our team better, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we’ll stay pat and go forward and enter into free agency on July 1.’’
Saunders also said he felt the draft was an “artificial deadline” when it came to trades, and that, historically, few top players get dealt by that day. “I don’t know about the prospects of us trading anybody by Thursday night.”
In other items:
--Asked if he thought Cleveland would trace the No. 1 overall pick: “Nothing would surprise me,” he said. “They’ve always done a lot of things out of the box. It wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll still be surprised if they do.”
--About how busy the phones have been at Wolves headquarters? Flip mentioned that he took three calls before he came to talk with the media. He said the phone is busy from 8 a.m. into the wee hours of the next morning. He likened that building buzz to the feeding frenzy of feeding catfish. He said most of the work is being done by teams with a lot of picks, who feel that trading the uncertain value of a pick for a proven player is the way to go. He mentioned Philadelphia, which has two top 10 picks and a bunch of second-round picks, as a major player.
What Philly does, Saunders said, could have an impact on the rest of the top of the draft. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I thought there might be some (movement) if (Joel) Embiid hadn’t got hurt. But now with him hurt, I believe that the top is pretty much zeroed in.”
--Saunders said the Wolves are preparing as if Embiid and Dario Saric will be available when the Wolves draft at No. 13. This is, of course, because of Embiid’s foot surgery and Saric’s decision to stay in Europe for another year.
--Saunders said the much-praised draft class is a deep one, especially in this sense:
“Here’s what I think,’’ he said. “I believe the draft, players taken at 17, 18 and 19, those players have the ability to be rotation players next year. To play 15, 20 minutes. If you can get that out of a draft you feel pretty good. So what people felt it was a deep draft because you had the three great players at the top and then you had the depth behind. … I believe there is a lot of potential in the draft and a lot of guys who will go in the top 10 have a chance to be All Star players.”
--Flip wouldn’t touch the whole issue regarding reports of LeBron James opting out of his Miami contract.
--Flip was asked about how important character was when drafting. During his answer Saunders offered this nugget about something he calls an S-box regarding players the team won’t draft. “It’s a box I call an S-box,” he said. “I put players in there and that means no matter what we’re not touching those guys. We’ve got a few guys in that box. As we brought the 60 guys in to work out, I told them you don’t want to get into that box, because it’ll hurt you a little bit.’’
Meanwhile, newly-hired assistant Sam Mitchell talked today.
Mitchell allowed that his return to the NBA comes with the hope that this job will perhaps lead to another head coaching job. But, for now, that is not his focus. “My focus is on helping Flip, getting the Timberwolves back to where we want them to be. We have great fan support here. They appreciate hard work. They appreciate effort. They appreciate good team basketball. That’s something, playing here all those years under Flip, that we did.”
That’s about all for now. Have a great rest of your day.
I sat down with Flip Saunders on Thursday afternoon to do reporting for my Sunday draft preview story and pieces that will run next week leading up to next Thursday's draft.
I'm saving all the Kevin Love and draft-specific stuff until then, but here's a bunch of this and that from our conversation:
* I asked him if he's going to need to move players other than Love because, with players still to be added through a Love trade and the draft, of a surplus of players at, say, small forward.
"It depends," he said. "Is Luc Mbah a Moute a small forward or a power forward? The other small forward basically are '2' guards: Corey, Bud, Shabazz, Kevin Martin and then Luc slides over (to power forward). You look at Alexey. He can probably play both (guard spots) and you have the two point guards. I don't think our roster is overly unbalanced now. We've got three guys who are basically centers."
* He said he envisions centers Gorgui Dieng and Ronny Turiaf both playing some at power forward and said he thinks Nikola Pekovic and Dieng can play together some, with Pek at center and Dieng mobile enough to defend out on the floor at the power-forward spot.
"I think you can play them (together),' he said. "I think that's probably something we've work on a lot this summer, to see Gorgui's ability to play out on the floor a little bit more. I always say what position you are is who you can guard and I think he can guard 4s."
* Saunders said he expects Dieng, Shved and Muhammad to play at Vegas Summer League next month. He also wants Chase Budinger to come to Minneapolis for three days of practice before and possibly even play a couple games in Vegas so Saunders and his staff can see how Budinger's knee rehab is going.
"We've had a long talk about things," Saunders said. "As I told him, we probably did him an injustice. Everyone was so anxious to get him back (from October knee surgery, his second in 11 months), Rick wanted him back. We probably should have put him in the D League for a couple weeks because what happens is, he came back and the other team was running the 220 (yard) sprint) and got around to the 110 (mark) and Chase was at a standstill. They went by him and he could never catch 'em. We needed to put him where he could get his confidence going and when he did get it going, then the next game he sprained his ankle the last couple weeks of the season."
* Saunders said Dieng has gained weight -- some 10, 15 pounds -- and Muhammad has lost some (7 or 8 pounds) and he'd like to see both continue to progress in that area.
* He said he hasn't decided who will coach the Vegas games, but added they'll probably switch the duties around. That could mean just-named assistants Sidney Lowe and Sam Mitchell could coach a game or two, as could Saunders' son Ryan, who hasn't been officially hired yet.
He said David Adelman, who has a year left on his contract, will be on the staff but hasn't decided yet whether Bobby Jackson will be back as player development coach or who might fill that role or roles.
* He did confirm he went to Chicago Tuesday to watch Creighton small forward Doug McDermott and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas work out and said he has gone to see other prospect(s) work out but wouldn't say who.
* A bit more about when I asked him if there's a chance he'll trade that 13th overall pick.
"No," he said. "I shouldn't say no. Let me put it this way: You can always trade a pick. That hasn't entered my mind. I didn't think I was going to trade me pick last year (when he swapped No. 9 for 14 and 21 and took Muhammad and Dieng). Things can happen. I do think there's more of a box now (of possible players to pick) than I did before. This morning I got something from somebody that (top 3 prospect Joel) Embiid broke his foot and (European prospect Dario) Saric is going back to Europe for two more years. If Saric goes back, he maybe falls and keeps on falling. You never know what will happen."
* He appears to be targeting shooting -- I hear McDermott, Stauskas and Adreian Payne all are high on his list -- but reiterated that he feels the team needs to add two-way players -- i.e. guys who can play defense, too -- most to this roster.
"You still need to add shooting, you can never have too much shooting," he said. "I mean, you can look at it different ways. We had trouble shooting last year but we scored a lot of points. We may have had trouble shooting, but we rebounded the hell out of it and we got to the free-throw line. You want to find that balance. I don't think you totally want to substitute shooting where we have one-way type players, though."
* One last thing from me: If Wolves try to clear roster spots and decided to do so by finding a new home for Shved, don't be surprised if Cleveland is such a home. The Cavs were one of the finalists to sign him in 2011 and chosen coach Dave Blatt coached him with the Russian Olympic team in London in 2012.
The Wolves this afternoon officially announced, as expected, the hiring of Sam Mitchell as an assistant coach.
That follows last week's hiring of Sidney Lowe, who will be assisting Flip Saunders for the fourth time (two stints together before with the Wolves and once in Detroit).
Both are former Wolves players and former NBA head coaches. Lowe coached North Carolina State as well.
Mitchell won the 2007 NBA Coach of the Year award with Toronto and last coached in the league as a New Jersey assistant in 2011.
"It helps a great deal, having been in that seat before," Lowe said last week, referring to assistant coaches who have head-coaching experience. "You know what he's going through, what he's dealing with. We know what he needs, not just from the basketball side, working with players, developing players. We're there to take care of a lot of stuff that he doesn't need to worry about. That's our job, to assist."
Saunders' son Ryan is expected to join the coaching staff as well.
That would seem to leave one assistant's job left to fill, depending on what the team does with David Adelman, who was an assistant coach last season and has one season left on his contract.
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.
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