Souhan: Saunders' double duty is a risky business

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2014 - 12:39 AM

Dual roles could prove to be too much, even for a top-notch coach.

Kevin Love talked to Flip Saunders during training camp in Mankato last October.

They are the mad scientists of the NBA, testing the limits of dysfunctional DNA, dumping beakers of toxins into pans of hazardous waste until they create something never seen before.

In their latest experiment, the Minnesota Timberwolves have taken a pretty good former basketball coach and transformed him into a Three-Headed Prince.

This creature appears benign but, like kudzu, has the ability to engulf its surroundings if left unchecked.

Flip Saunders was a pretty good NBA head coach. Now, thanks to his relationship with Wolves owner Glen Taylor and the Wolves’ inability to hire promising candidates who haven’t golfed with Taylor, Saunders is the Wolves’ Basketball Czar, Grand Poobah, Lord of the Realm and Master of All He Surveys.

Imagine the power he’d wield if he ever coached in an NBA Finals.

Leave it to the Timberwolves to create the potential for an entirely new form of dysfunction. They have hired Saunders as their next coach. In a vacuum, this is a logical move. In the constant maelstrom that is the Timberwolves’ hierarchy, this was the only sensible move remaining.

How long will it be before Flip Saunders the coach starts complaining about the roster Flip Saunders the team president handed him, and Flip Saunders the owner has to step in to broker a peace?

Today, Flip will introduce Flip as the next coach of the Timberwolves, who will try to become the most successful coach the franchise has employed since Flip and try to save the equity that Flip has invested in the worst-run American franchise since Howard Johnson’s.

Taylor has made Saunders more powerful in this organization than Gregg Popovich is in San Antonio’s.

As an NBA coach, Saunders won 54.8 percent of his games.

As an executive, Saunders has presided over one draft, in which he chose Shabazz ‘‘No, not him!’’ Muhammad in the first round.

As a part owner of the Timberwolves, Saunders has done his best work. He has cozied up to Taylor, meaning he could draft Oto Osenieks and Maverick Ahanmisi in the upcoming draft and land a contract extension.

Under the circumstances, Saunders and Taylor are making the right decision. But the circumstances are lousy.

Saunders couldn’t land any of the coaches he really wanted, in part because the Wolves will be forced to trade their only All-Star player, and in part because of the franchise’s reputation around the league.

The last time the Wolves searched for candidates for an important job, all of the top candidates bailed out, leaving them to hire someone who knew nothing about basketball, David Kahn, to run the draft by himself.

That’s how the Wolves wound up with Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry, and Wes Johnnson instead of DeMarcus Cousins, and why they favored the other top pick in that first draft, Ricky Rubio, over Love when it came to handing out full-length contracts.

It is typical of the Timberwolves’ tortured history that they even a logical decision like this one is rooted in profound failure. That failure is why they had no chance to keep Love long-term once Kahn insulted him.

There are two dangers in Saunders the part-owner and executive becoming Saunders the coach:

1) He’ll fall in love with coaching again, and try to keep the job along with his executive duties, leaving the Wolves undermanned when competing with real NBA franchises.

2) He’ll believe that he can coax Love into signing a new contract.

Love has no reason to stay. Saunders can’t change that.

Because Love visited Boston and is sure to visit other NBA cities during his Summer of Spite, Minnesotans will find it easy to hate him.

Folks: He’s not spurning Minnesota. He’s spurning the Timberwolves. He is demonstrating sanity.

Why would Love stay?

The winters are brutal. The team hasn’t won. The team isn’t prepared to win. The team, like many of us, underestimated his value and growth potential.

Saunders the owner and executive needs to trade Love before Saunders the coach starts drawing up plays for him.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib.

jsouhan@startribune.com

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