Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
The Timberwolves today made it official, with training camp now just five days away: They have hired L.A.-based Mike Penberthy as a shooting coach to work with a team, particularly Ricky Rubio, who has struggled in that area in recent years.
A former Laker who played 56 NBA games more than a decade, Penberthy worked with Rubio, Chase Budinger and others over the summer. He will move back and forth from his Los Angeles-area home to work with players.
"I don't even want to pigeon-hole him as a shooting coach because i think there are other things he'll be able to help us with," Wolves coach/president Flip Saunders said. "That will be his main emphasis. Ricky enjoyed working with him, even though it was only for a week. I think if Ricky had a chance to spend a month with him or six weeks, I believe we could have seen some good changes. We'll let his role evolve. It's important for him to see how we want to play and where guys are going to get shots and how he can incorporate that into our shooting."
The Wolves also hired former Detroit director of basketball operations Jason Hervey -- no, not the Wonder Years kid -- as a scout who will work both colleges and NBA personnel.
They also announced they are promoting scout Derek Pierce from general scout to advance scout.
The Timberwolves will have a new D League affiliate this season after having an arrangement with the Iowa Energy last season and the Sioux Falls Skyforce for the seven seasons before that.
This year, they will send players to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in Indiana.
That's right, the Mad Ants.
If the Fort Wayne team has room for that Wolves player or players.
See, the Mad Ants are the only independent D League team left, that is the only one that doesn't have a single affiliatation agreement with a NBA team.
The Detroit Pistons (Grand Rapids), Memphis Grizzlies (Iowa), New York (Westchester), Orlando (Erie), Phoenix (Bakersfield) and Utah (Idaho) are entered into affiliations with D League teams this summer.
That leaves Fort Wayne as the only one left for the other 13 NBA teams.
The NBA has implemented a new "flexible assignment system" that will allow those 13 NBA teams to still send players in the D League.
If the Mad Ants already have the maximum of four assigned NBA players on their roster or two assigned players at the same position as the Wolves players, the Wolves can send their player to any D League team willing to take him.
The Wolves will choose from any D League teams willing to accept their player. If no D League team volunteers, a lottery will send the player to a non- NBA owned, single-affiliate D League team.
Seven of the 17 single-affiliate D League teams are fully owned and operated by their NBA club. NBA are operated under a hybrid system, in which the NBA team funds and manages the D League's team basketball operations but local ownership has control of the team's business and community-relations departments.
Players in the first three years of their NBA career can be assigned to a D League team an unlimited number of times during the season. Players with more than three years' NBA experience can be sent to the D League with both their consent and the NBA Players Association's consent.
Flip Saunders has expressed interest in being part of a hybrid arrangement with a D League team so the Wolves could install their own coach who'd run the NBA team's offensive and defensive systems and the Wolves also could groom coaches and front-office personnel there. He'd prefer it'd be a short drive from the Twin Cities -- say Rochester or St. Cloud or perhaps even Duluth, for example -- so a player could practice with the Wolves in the morning and still play a D League home game at night.
That idea is on the back burner for now, both because Saunders has been plenty busy with many other things and because the supply for available D League teams obviously is running thin.
On other matters with training camp now fewer than two weeks away...
The Wolves will tip-off their camp week in Mankato with a midnight-madness event late Monday night, at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday Sept. 30 actually after the team holds its annual media day at Target Center Monday afternoon.
They also will have a Sunday afternoon scrimmage on Oct. 5 in Mankato before they break camp.
Both events will be open to the public.
Look for more information from the team on both events soon.
The Wolves' worst-kept secret is no more; Yes, they've officially announced the hiring of Ryan Saunders as assistant coach.
If the name sounds familiar, yes...that's Flip's son, who stayed in Washington working for the Wizards after the team fired his dad a couple years ago.
His Wizards contract expired yesterday, which meant the Wolves' hire became official today -- July 1 -- even though he was spotted observing draft workouts at Target Center weeks ago.
He joins Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe and David Adelman on the coaching staff. No word yet on what the team will do for a player development coach; I suspect Bobby Jackson will not be back in that role.
He played parts of 20 games with the Gophers and was an assistant under Tubby Smith there.
Ryan Saunders brings a statistical analytics background to a coaching staff of old guys. He is co-founder of an in-game analytical program called Gametime Concepts, which, according to the team, is used by a number of NBA and NCAA teams.
I hear Sidney Lowe is in town, a visit that's a prelude to him joining Flip Saunders' staff as an assistant coach.
It's not a done deal yet, but is expected to be sometime soon.
Lowe was an assistant under Flip with the Wolves and Detroit, too. The former North Carolina State worked as an assistant to former Wolves teammate Ty Corbin at Utah this last season.
Also expect Flip's son Ryan to join the staff, but he's under contract with Washington until month's end.
Sam Mitchell is a possibility as well. Last I heard he was considering his options and deciding whether he wants to get back in coaching and continue with his radio/TV commentating gig in both the U.S. and Canada.
The Wolves have pursued European coach Dave Blatt as an assistant, but they've got stiff competition, particularly if Cleveland decides they want him as their head coach. Golden State also wants to add him as top assistant to Steve Kerr.
Depending on what else happens, former Golden State and Sacramento coach Eric Musselman -- whom Saunders once baby sat -- is a possibility as well. He wants to get back into NBA coaching and is weighing a couple college options as well, I'm told, after working for Arizona State last season.
Another possible candidate if Detroit guard Chauncey Billups, if he decides to retire and doesn't pursue a front-office job somewhere. He played for Saunders with the Wolves and the Pistons.
Saying he believed he was the right man at the right time, Flip Saunders officially added the job of Wolves head coach to his existing position as president of basketball operations at a press conference Friday afternoon.
It was a decision that Saunders and owner Glen Taylor said they came to after weeks of trying to fill the vacancy left by Rick Adelman’s decision to retire. But, as Taylor – and Saunders stressed – it was not the first option explored, but rather one that loomed as the coaching search moved forward.
“We never felt we had found the perfect person,” said Taylor, who had been vocal about his desire to keep the two jobs separate. “Or even the near perfect person for the job. So last week we met again, and we came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to serve us well to go another month (into the process). We should sit down and make a decision.’’
And that decision was Saunders, the winningest coach in team history. He coached the team for nine-plus seasons starting in the 1995-96 season and led the team to eight playoff berths. In 2003-04 the team won 58 games and advanced to the Western Conference finals. Later Saunders coached the Detroit Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference Finals. Overall, Saunders has had seven 50-win seasons as an NBA head coach.
Saunders, too, claimed that coaching wasn’t his first option.
But it was one he also came to after what he called an eye-opening coaching search.
“Every team has a right coach at the right time,” Saunders said. “I believe I’m the right guy to coach this team in this situation. It’s time to put my tool belt back on and go to work.”
Both Taylor and Saunders said the move was not made because of the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Love’s future with the team. And Saunders did not say how long he intended to remain as coach, though Taylor did say he hoped to separate the roles again in the future.
Now Saunders will begin to build an assistant coaching staff that will have a blend of experience and the ability develop players. He said it was not necessarily his intention to have a “head coach in waiting’’ on that staff, but said he did hope the staff would include somebody who would develop into a strong candidate.
“I took this job because I think we’re going to be successful,” Saunders said. “It would have been easier for me to hire a coach than to coach. But this is what’s best for the organization. That’s why I’m doing it.”
And, of course, there is one perk to the move.
“I’m pretty sure the coach and the president of basketball operations are going to be on the same page,” Saunders joked. “And that’s pretty important.”
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