Joerger emerges as Wolves' coaching candidate

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2014 - 10:35 PM

The Timberwolves will interview Minnesotan Dave Joerger, who is coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Somewhere in Dave Joerger’s personal library of basketball research resides a notebook or two filled with his observations from Timberwolves training-camp practices at St. John’s University a decade ago.

The Memphis Grizzlies coach and Minnesota native might need to find them sometime soon, if only to preserve as a keepsake.

A dedicated minor league coach who admired Wolves coach Flip Saunders’ teaching methods back then, Joerger on Thursday is expected to meet with Saunders about the Wolves’ coaching vacancy.

Relatively soon thereafter he could be named the team’s 11th head coach, an NBA source said Wednesday.

The Wolves received the Grizzlies’ permission to interview Joerger, who just completed his first season as an NBA head coach by leading Memphis to 50 victories. The Grizzlies then lost in seven games to Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.

Raised in Staples, Minn., and college educated in Moorhead, Joerger, 40, has bypassed former Wolves player and former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell as the leading candidate for a job that opened last month when Rick Adelman retired at season’s end.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor championed Mitchell for the job the last time around, when Adelman was hired in 2011, and is believed to favor him again.

Now the team’s president of basketball operations, Saunders also has discussed the job with, among others, college coaches Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg as well as former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, according to two league coaching sources.

It was Joerger himself who replaced Hollins in Memphis last summer and now finds himself caught up in front-office tumult that saw Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash let go Monday.

Both were moves made by owner Robert Pera that left Joerger’s job security in question despite a multiyear contract he signed last summer.

Levien was the one who hired Joerger, and now Joerger presumably is looking for a way out while the Grizzlies look to start fresh in multiple positions, including coach.

After all that upheaval, going home to a franchise that could be forced to trade star Kevin Love still might look pretty good.

The Grizzlies are expected to seek compensation if the Wolves intend to hire Joerger, although the source who had knowledge of Joerger’s interview didn’t expect the issue to be a deal-breaker.

The Grizzlies could want cash, a draft pick or multiple picks. In addition to the 13th pick in the draft, the Wolves have three second-round selections next month.

Days in the Dakotas

Joerger spent more than a decade laboring in basketball’s minor leagues — from Fargo and Bismarck, N.D., to Sioux Falls, S.D., and beyond. He washed uniforms and fetched sandwiches by day and coached by night.

He finally reached the NBA as a Memphis assistant in 2007, years after spending autumns at NBA training camps picking the brains of legendary minor league coaches who worked their way to the NBA.

Former Milwaukee and Denver coach George Karl invited him into camp just as Saunders did.

Joerger remembers spending several days in Collegeville, Minn., watching Saunders teach newcomers Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell the intricacies of his offense when each star arrived in Minnesota in October 2003.

“Those are the guys I always looked up to,” Joerger said last summer after he was hired, referring to Karl, Saunders and Phil Jackson, all former CBA coaches who found NBA success.

“I always wanted to be like those guys. I watched them, how they put their stuff together. I love the way Flip Saunders coaches offense. I can’t get enough. I’ve stolen a lot of his stuff. I just loved watching him. He’s a terrific teacher.”

Fan of Flip

The son of a high school coach, Joerger acknowledged that day in Las Vegas last summer that plenty of Saunders is in him as a coach.

Saunders also perhaps sees a good bit of himself in a young coach who paid his dues in the minors for a decade and earned his first NBA head coaching job as he approached his 40th birthday, just like Saunders did.

The first time Joerger made the two-plus-hour drive from Staples to Target Center, current TNT analyst Kenny Smith was playing for the Houston Rockets.

“I remember coming to games here,” he said last season when he brought the Grizzlies to Target Center, “just the biggest deal in the world.”

He called that first time he led an NBA team at Target Center last January “very exciting, very humbling.”

“It’s certainly a dream come true to be able coach here,” he said, referring to being able to do so as a NBA head coach.

Next season, he very well might do so regularly.







 

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