Reusse: Flip's the right guy; don't put him in wrong spot

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 23, 2014 - 7:24 AM
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Flip Saunders has done good work as Timberwolves president of basketball operations. He shouldn't take on the addition burden of being the new head coach.

The skyway still makes its turn through the Minneapolis disaster known as Block E. Adjacent to the walking area, all that can be seen are walls of Sheetrock. There is the pounding of sledgehammers and other instruments of destruction behind those walls.

This ridiculous maze of retail and stairwells has been an embarrassment to downtown since it opened in 2001. Finally, Block E is being transformed into something useful, at the same time an NBA organization is being brought into the 21st century.

The Timberwolves and Mayo Clinic are involved in knocking down walls and beams, making space for a practice facility, offices and a Mayo orthopedic center. Whether the construction includes access changes to street level that would replace Dwight Smith’s favorite stairwell hasn’t been clarified.

The Timberwolves have been a decade behind a large share of the NBA when it comes to facilities for its players. The fact the athletes are being moved from a couple of courts in the lower level of the Arena Health Club to an actual practice installation is a sign that Glen Taylor has decided to modernize the operation.

Now, the owner should do the same when it comes to choosing the 11th individual to coach this 25-year-old franchise.

The resignation of the 10th coach, Rick Adelman, became official on Monday. The 67-year-old Adelman was sitting next to Flip Saunders, the 59-year-old president of basketball operations, at the morning news conference.

What you keep hearing from Timberwolves folks is that Saunders would like to give it another shot as coach. Taylor’s public stance when he hired Saunders a year ago was that it was not feasible for one person to run the basketball operation and serve as coach.

That doesn’t mean Saunders will easily give up on the idea. He has Milt Newton in place with the title of general manager. Saunders can offer Taylor the theory that Newton can run the daily operation while he’s off running practices and games.

Saunders was asked about the possibility of doing both jobs after Monday’s news conference and said: “I’m not going to answer that. [As] Rick said, ‘You never know.’ Ideally, we’re going to do a search.”

Recently, Taylor was asked in an interview what he would do if Flip came to him and said, “I’ve done a search and I’m the best candidate.”

Taylor’s response was, “I’d tell him to look again.”

Let’s hope Taylor means that. Saunders had a long and productive run here as coach from December 1995 to February 2005. Yet his return to the bench would do nothing to inspire the fan base, and it would cut into what he has done best since being rehired by Taylor.

Saunders is part of the Twin Cities. You see him everywhere. There was no evidence of his impact at the ticket window this winter, but there’s still a much better vibe about the Wolves with Saunders as the frontman. It reminds me of the first decade when Lou Nanne was in charge of the North Stars.

I give the credit to Saunders for invigorating Taylor as an NBA owner — for convincing him to step up with the practice facility and to try again to build a winner here. Remember, a few months before Saunders came aboard, Taylor sounded like a beaten-down owner who wanted to sell.

The basketball crowd in this area likes Saunders as a person. The fans are willing to give him a full shot as the guy in charge of the draft, at making the decisions on Kevin Love and other personnel matters.

The hoopheads just don’t want Saunders back as the coach. After a decade of Flip, the short-termers in between and three seasons of Adelman … it seems from here the fans would be looking for a different kind of fire from the sideline.

Who? I don’t know.

Who is our Jeff Hornacek in the Twin Cities? Or to make a more far-fetched comparison, who is our basketball version of Patrick Roy in Denver?

Sam Mitchell. I’d take him. He had a run in Toronto. He’s matured since then, but he will still be amped up on the sideline.

The Wolves fans need a coach to rally around, and he’s not Saunders. Flip’s the basketball boss to rally around.

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com

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