After practice Monday, Wolves president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau added his voice to the chorus of people remembering the impact Flip Saunders had on the organization.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Saunders’ passing, which came less than five months after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The two were friends, and they shared a connection to the late Bill Musselman, who coached Saunders at the University of Minnesota and hired Thibodeau to be a part of his first staff with the Wolves decades ago.
Monday Thibodeau praised Saunders for putting together the young core talent of the team’s roster. “It’s great,’’ he said. “Obviously we all miss him. And he was one of a kind, and his vision for the team…. He had spoken to me about what he was trying to do. So I had a good understanding of it. I never thought I would end up here, but when he was telling me about it, it made a lot of sense to me. And then, getting here, and seeing the players and their character, you could tell they put a premium on that as well.’’
It is a vision that Thibodeau now has in his hands. “We just try to do the right things each and every day,’’ he said. “I think [Saunders] put things in motion and a lot of the guys feel very close to him. His memory is alive and well with all of us. We want to make him proud. Me being here before and also my connections to him through Bill Musselman, it’s sad that he’s not here. But his memory lives on and we’re going to do the right things for him.’’
One other note from today.
Thibodeau was asked a good bit about his defense. The Wolves needed to improve mightily in that area, as we know, and Thibodeau came to Minnesota with the reputation as a defensive coach.
So far so good.
With the preseason in the books, the Wolves finished in a tie for second in defensive rating – a stat that measures the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. Atlanta finished first at 91.2. Minnesota and Detroit were tied for second at 92.1.
We all know that putting too much emphasis on the preseason is a mistake. Still, there appears to be some improvement.
“It’s just fundamentals,” Thibodeau said. “Both offensively and defensively. That’s how we’re building our foundation. And then, the repetition. We have to execute on both ends of the floor. So we start with individual fundamentals, then go to team fundamentals, try to work at it every day. There is a long way to go. The preseason is finished. It will go to another level of intensity now that we get to the regular season. So we have to be ready for that.’’