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.
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.”
Flip Saunders will be the next Timberwolves coach and will be introduced Friday in a news conference.
He confirmed in a text message this morning that he will coach the team but declined further comment until tomorrow.
As far as I know, there is no specified length of time that he'll coach, although he has suggested before it would only be for a season or two if he did decide to coach.
When it's all sorted out, Flip's staff is expected to include former Wolves players Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe, although I'm not certain yet if either is a coach-in-waiting to take the job next.
No word if one of Flip's former players, Chauncey Billups, will become that former coach-in-waiting and it's likely Flip's son Ryan will eventually join the staff.
"I like Flip, he's the best coach the Timberwolves have ever had," Wolves forward Corey Brewer said about today's news. "It's all about winning."
I'm hearing Glen's agreement with Flip to coach is open-ended in terms of year. It's possible he could go back in a year and two and see if he can convince either Michigan State's Tom Izzo or Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg to take the job if the timing is then better for either man.
I'm hearing through league sources that there was a time during this search that Flip thought he had convinced Izzo to be the next coach.
Kevin Love's uncertain future likely impacted this decision because it left doubt in some candidates' minds. I'm not sure yet if Flip still thinks he can convince Love to stay. I'm sure we'll ask him that tomororow.
The decision likely was made so the Wolves have answers and stability so they can move ahead with player off-season training plans, etc.
Billups still is under a player's contract with Detroit so if anything happens with him, it won't be until next month likely so the Wolves don't risk the same kind of fine Phil Jackson got for talking about Derek Fisher as possible the next Knicks coach.
Flip and owner Glen Taylor met earlier this week and agreed that Saunders as coach was the best option after he inquired with pals Izzo, Hoiberg and Jeff Van Gundy about their interest in the job and had interviewd Mitchell, Lionel Hollins, Scott Skiles and aggressively pursued Memphis coach Dave Joerger before Joerger decided to stay in Memphis.
"I'm a little surprised he's stepping back in and coaching, but it's a pleasant surprise," Brewer said. "He built the team so why not coach?"
The Associated Press first reported the story.
Yes, I can confirm national reports that the Wolves have interviewed former Chicago and L.A. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro for their coaching opening.
I'm told he interviewed a week ago Wednesday with Flip Saunders in Cleveland.
That was the day before Joerger interviewed and then came to Minnesota to meet Glen Taylor on Saturday.
A source with knowledge of the search doesn't believe Del Negro is headed toward getting the job, though.
He does fit Flip's criteria: He has coached before and he is a former NBA point guard who presumably would help develop Ricky Rubio.
Del Negro coached Derrick Rose in Chicago and Chris Paul in L.A., not sure how much credit you'd give any coach for "developing" those guys.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein first reported that Del Negro has emerged as a "serious" candidate and Yahoo!Sports Adrian Wojnarowski followed, saying Saunders is increasingly intrigued with Del Negro as a candidate.
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.
The Wolves' coaching search has a late entry, and probably a frontrunner at that:
The Wolves have been given permission to talk to Memphis coach Dave Joerger and are expected to meet with him by the end of the week, according to a league source.
That interview could come Thursday.
Joerger grew up in Staples, Minn., and goes way back with Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.
Joerger as a young coach attended Flip's Wolves practices and took notes during training camp at St. John's, and particuarlyl remembers watching Saunders install his offense the fall Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell joined the team.
Joerger's Grizzlies team won 50 games last season but he's currently in the middle of a mess in Memphis, where ownership suddenly fired much of its front office earlier this week
Bottom line, according to the source: Joerger wants out and Grizzlies ownership wants him out, but Joerger doesn't want to leave the rest of his multi-year contract on the table and the team doesn't want to pay him off.
The Grizzlies on Monday fired CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash, but kept general manager Chris Wallace, VP of basketball operations John Hollinger and, at least for the time being, Joerger.
Levien promoted Joerger -- who won titles everywhere he went in the sport's minor leagues before taking an assistant's job in Memphis in 2007 -- last summer after the team couldn't reach contract terms with head coach Lionel Hollins and the two sides parted ways.
The Grizzlies might seek compensation from the Wolves if they want to hire Joerger, but their demands are not expected to be a deal breaker, the source said. The Wolves do have three second-round picks in this draft, if it does get down to compensation.
Last summer, the Los Angeles Clippers agreed to send a future first-round pick to Boston so the Celtics would allow Doc Rivers out of his coaching contract there.
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