New Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders has been on the job now nearly four months, during which he has reshaped the roster by signing Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf to guaranteed contracts worth nearly $120 million. After finalizing a five-year, $60 million deal with Pekovic on Friday, Saunders discussed a busy summer, the five weeks remaining until training camp and some of his discussions with team owner Glen Taylor and coach Rick Adelman.
Q Is this job harder than you thought it’d be?
A No. When I coached, I was always pretty active in the personnel side of things. Were there some challenges? Yeah, there were, challenges trying to change the culture — how we operate internally and externally — so all parties understand what you’re trying to do.
Q Anything you understand now about the job that you didn’t four months ago?
A I don’t think so. People talk about the importance of the agents and how they can dictate things; I believe my year with ESPN helped me tremendously in dealing with media and even agents. You understand these people have an agenda and you have to respect what their agenda is. It might not be the same as yours, and you might not like what they’re doing, but it’s not out of spite to you. It’s because they have a job to do. You have to respect that. I understand that more now, and I don’t take it maybe as seriously, to be honest, as I would have in the past.
Q You’ve re-signed Pek, balanced the roster, tried to address the team’s shot-blocking needs. What’s left to do?
A Things I feel can help all those players become better: Get our medical staff and our philosophy together and decide long term how we’ll train these guys so they can be better prepared for the season. We’re going to look at another front-office person. We need to get everything together from a scouting — our analytics — standpoint. There are still a lot of things to do.
I just told somebody: When I took this job until really today, I felt like I was a gerbil on one of those rolling things, running and not going anywhere, because as soon as you got something done, there’s something else right there to do. Now we have an opportunity to really focus on some things.
Q Any roster needs you still need to address?
A I don’t think we have any needs. Right now, talking to Rick, we feel comfortable with the roster we have. Not only is it balanced, but we feel we have talent at every position. I’ve talked a lot about this team and there are pretty good players out there we don’t even talk about right now: Derrick Williams, J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham. When you put all those guys together with who we’ve added, you’ve got to feel comfortable.
Q Is Alexey Shved in that group?
A He is, but I’ve talked a lot about him just because of who he is. Guys like Lexey and Derrick can go one of two ways. This is a man’s league and there are three things they don’t do in this league: They don’t ask for your I.D. to see how old you are. They don’t ask to see your paycheck. And they don’t look at your Wikipedia page to see what you’ve done in the past. You’ve got to produce. Players determine how much they play. If they play well, they’re going to play. If they don’t, they’re not going to play.
Q Were you finally able to track Rick down and tell him the Pek news?