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.
The Wolves announced today -- as tonight's 11 p.m. start of the NBA's annual free-agency period approaches -- that they will not extend qualifying offers to rookie Robbie Hummel and veteran Othyus Jeffers.
That will make each player an unrestricted free agent to sign with any team starting tonight.
It doesn't mean, however, that the Wolves still couldn't bring one or both back, although the Wolves will have 14 players under guaranteed contracts once they sign draftees Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III.
Flip Saunders said he doesn't expect the Wolves to be active in free agency in these opening hours -- and probably days -- of free agency.
The Wolves today introduced newly drafted UCLA guard Zach LaVine and Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III at a Target Center news conference with basketball boss Flip Saunders.
Some highlights and impressions:
* LaVine reaction on draft night -- and that uttered expletive after he hid his face in his arms -- continued to generate buzz Friday from all the social-media angst expressed by Wolves fans the night before.
"You know, getting drafted in the NBA was something I've always dreamed of since I was a little kid so to tell you the truth when my name got called, I lost it," he said. "I put my head down, thanked God and from there I just lost it. I'm a very emotional person. I didn't mean any disrespect to anyone. I'm the most excited person. It was almost like in disbelief that I said that I think. I felt bad. OK, that's not the best first impression. Hopefully I can make that up.
"I just want to let you guys know I'm the most excited person in the world to be part of this organization. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm going to put my whole heart into this organization."
* Flip said he woke up Friday morning feeling better about the Wolves organization and where it's headed than he ever has since being hired in May 2013, in good part due to the two young players sitting beside him.
He said he also woke up feeling old because 10 years ago he coached Kevin Garnett on how to stop Glenn Robinson II -- the NBA's 1994 No. 1 overall draft pick and Glenn Robinson III's dad -- and now he's coaching the Big Dog's kid.
* Robinson will wear No. 22 and LaVine No. 8.
LaVine picked his number as an homage to idol Kobe Bryant and because Nikola Pekovic already wears No. 14, his college number.
"I'm not going to fight him over that number," LaVine said. "That dude is huge. He takes up a whole locker."
* The two new rookies worked out together for the Bulls recently, the first time they really got to know and play with each other.
After Robinson discussed the experience and praised him, LaVine turned and said, "Thanks, bro."
* It was clear from the way Flip talked that he drafted both players, but particularly LaVine, believing he can work and develop him the way he did with Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and John Wall.
* When asked about LaVine's basketball IQ and ability to learn and adapt to the NBA's complext offenses, Flip said, "That's up to the coach."
Of course, Flip's the same guy who drafted and who will coach LaVine.
* Unlike last year, Flip said he doesn't expect to be active when the NBA's free agency period begins Tuesday. A year ago, he flew to California to meet with J.J. Redick, O.J. Mayo and others. Now he says things will be quieter because the Wolves already have 14 of 15 roster spots filled, even though they still will have a nearly $6 million mid-level exception slot to use if they decide to do so.
* Flip defended selling two second-round picks -- see a story forthcoming that I'll write for Saturday's paper -- and said European prospects Nemanja Bjelica and Bogan Dubljevic both are on career arcs headed to the NBA but are at least a year away.
He said that's because both probably will command bigger salaries and want more playing time than the Wolves currently can give.
Just checking in from Target Center here tonight with the NBA draft set to start from Brooklyn at 6:30 p.m. our time.
The Wolves continue to talk a Kevin Love trade with a number of teams -- foremost still Golden State -- but I'd say it's less than 50-50, probably 35-65 if I had to make odds.
I have no idea what tonight will bring, but I'm guessing it'll either be quite boring with the Wolves taking UCLA's Zach LaVine or Michigan State's Adreian Payne or Gary Harris (unless Creighton's Doug McDermott or Michigan's Nik Stauskas drop).
Or all hell's going to break loose with a Love trade and more.
There's been plenty of back-and-forth with the Warriors, at this stage I believe it's much more haggling over what other pieces will be included -- Harrison Barnes? The Warriors' first-round pick next summer? The Wolves' 13th pick -- than it is whether Klay Thompson is part of the trade.
Ric Bucher out in the Bay Area reported late last night that Wolves owner Glen Taylor and Warriors owner Joe Lacob talked Wednesday about the trade.
Remember Love came here in a 2008 draft-night trade -- a very late at night trade, I might add -- after Taylor got on the phone with Memphis owner Michael Heisley and hammered out the deal.
Maybe history repeats itself tonight?
Perhaps, but don't hold your breath.
My colleague will be on here with an update after the Wolves' first pick is made. As long as they stay at the 13th spot, that pick should come about 7:30-7:40 our time.
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.
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