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.
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.”
Coaching superagent Warren LeGarie just texted me this message: "Dave has decided to stay in Memphis."
Dave, of course, is his client, Memphis coach Dave Joerger, who spent 2 1/2 hours interviewing with Wolves owner Glen Taylor Saturday in Minneapolis after he interviewed with Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders on Thursday.
So is it real?
Or is it big-time negotating plain and simple?
Two sources close to the situation assure me it is real, that the Grizzlies never intended to let Joerger go without some very real compensation -- swapping the teams' first-round picks (Wolves own No. 13, Grizzles No. 22, plus perhaps more -- that the Wolves aren't willing to give and that Memphis owner Robert Pera has assured Joerger he wants him to stay.
Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders declined comment, as he has about the search since Rick Adelman announced his retirement last month, except to say this:
"Dave was going through the interview process. We had good talks but it became very apparent to both parties that Dave was going to remain in Memphis."
The X factor in all this is Pera, whose team ushered out two front-office executives Monday in a couple of sweeping moves and was believed to be in favor of bringing in a big-name coach.
Who knows? The Grizzlies still could at some point fire Joerger down the line -- anything possible with Memphis -- and the Wolves could still hire him, I suppose.
For now, those sources say the Wolves will continue with their hiring process, which has included interviews with former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, among others.
Wolves are about to tip it off here in Washington against the Wizards in a game that starts another five games-in-seven days stretch.
And there's all kind of storylines here on a night when rookie Shabazz Muhammad again is unavailable because of a sprained right ankle:
Flip Saunders came in early for the game, arriving Sunday to check out the condo he still owns here from his Wizards' coaching days and to visit his son Ryan, a Wizards assistant coach.
A.J. Price is back in the arena where he played last season and hoped to return this season but the Wizards showed no such mutual inclination.
Also here is Wolves GM Milt Newton, a Wizards' executive until Flip hired him away last summer.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman is coaching against the team he once coached both as an assistant and as head coach and chatted with old friend Flip earlier today.
And Kevin Love is playing against the first guy who ever coached him in the NBA, an experience that Love didn't feel too fondly about when Wittman coached him starting in 2008.
Asked if he still hears Wittman yelling "No!" at him now when he shoots threes, Love before tonight's game said, "I'm past that now. That was a long time ago."
The Wolves open their 25th anniversary season tonight against Orlando at Target Center with all the excitement and newness that accompanies every fresh beginning.
For Ricky Rubio, it really is all new.
This will be the first time he's introduced as a starter in the season opener.
"Yeah, that's true," he said. "I didn't think about it."
He came off the bench for the first few weeks of his rookie season two years ago and was injured along with teammate Kevin Love for the opener last year.
"I remember that feeling, sitting on the side with Kevin watching the video, and I remember watching him and feeling a little painful," Rubio said. "Watching our teammates going out there and we couldn't be with them. We're going to try to get that feeling (the excitement of the season opener), not rush things but to use it as a good thing."
The Wolves tonight because another attempt at reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
"We're trying to build something here," Rubio said.
In that spirit, new basketball boss Flip Saunders gave every coach, player and staff member a Timberwolves "We're Ready" coin today, a gift intended to promote team unity.
Maybe Rick Adelman will use his to flip and decided who'll start at small forward tonight.
So far, there's no definitive indication, although maybe Kevin Love let things slip when he included Corey Brewer's name with the other starter's during a shootaround conversation this morning.
We'll know more by pre-game tonight. I'll update the blog then.
The Wolves opener is one day away and coach Rick Adelman still hasn’t decided – or isn’t willing, yet, to share – who his starting small forward will be.
With such a long break between the final preseason game and Wednesday’s opener with Orlando, the subject of the starter at the position has become a daily give-and-take between Adelman and the media. The one thing that has remained constant is Adelman’s insistence that it doesn’t necessarily matter who starts as much as how the position fits into the team’s rotations.
“We’re looking at the whole thing,” Adelman said. “It’s what rotation are you going to use throughout the game?’’
As much as he would like a set starting five, and as much as he’d like to have Corey Brewer coming off the bench, Adelman is likely committed to adjusting his starting lineup game by game depending on the matchup. So the player who starts Wednesday as the team’s small forward might not start again Friday.
In other items:
--Count J.J. Barea is a certified fan of the Gophers men’s basketball team. Barea was a senior at Northeastern University during the 2005-06 season. One of the assistants on the coaching staff was Richard Pitino, who was just two years older than Barea. “He was so young, and I was a senior in college, so he couldn’t say nothing to me,” Barea joked. Pitino, the first-year coach of the Gophers, asked Barea to come over and talk to his team. And Barea said he’d be attending a few Gophers games this season.
It’s a small world. Barea played for Richard Pitino and Wolves rookie Gorgui Dieng played for Pitino’s father, Rick.
--On Dec. 11, in the Wolves’ home game with Philadelphia, Adelman will become the second most tenured coach in franchise history behind Flip Saunders. Adelman, whose 55 victories are already second most in team history, has coached in 142 games, 22 fewer than Bill Musselman and Kurt Rambis, who both coached the team in 164 games.
That’s about it for now. Jerry will be with the team starting with Wednesday morning’s shootaround
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