Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has said very little publicly about his search for the team’s next coach, which now has reached five weeks and counting since Rick Adelman announced his retirement.
But when he does, Saunders speaks mostly about what he calls a “process” that he says doesn’t necessarily need to be completed by next month’s NBA draft. ¶ So what do the Wolves do now that prospective hire Dave Joerger danced with both Saunders and Wolves owner Glen Taylor last week but will remain as the head coach in Memphis? ¶ They go back to the process. ¶ Saunders insists no clock is ticking on that process, even if the Wolves on Thursday are expected to bring their first draft prospects to town for workouts and interviews, with the draft itself now only a month away.
So who remains in the race? ¶ Barring Saunders going back fresh to the drawing board, here’s an updated look at some of the possibilities to be hired either before or after the June 26 draft, either before or after a potential Kevin Love trade:
The former Toronto coach and 2007 NBA Coach of the Year definitely is in consideration because of his relationships with both Saunders, for whom he played with the Timberwolves nearly 20 years ago, and Taylor, whom he knows well.
But he’s probably not the lock that widespread national media speculation assumes.
He hasn’t been a head coach since 2008 and hasn’t coached in the league since he was an assistant with New Jersey in 2011. He is doing radio and television work in the United States and Canada and is a candidate who likely could be hired anytime, pre- or post-draft or pre- and post-Love trade.
The time he has devoted to this search suggests he doesn’t want or intend to eventually appoint himself, particularly now that a future without Love seems inevitable. But it’s still possible as a last resort and a bridge to the future for a season or possibly two.
Yes, yes, the mayor of Ames, Iowa, says he is as happy as can be at Iowa State and the locals there absolutely adore him. But NBA teams keep calling — Cleveland reportedly the latest — and someday he will leave college basketball’s recruiting grind to return to the NBA. He’d be a young coach Saunders could mentor, but this soon? As Saunders likes to say about most things, never say never if the offer is rich enough.
The former Memphis coach was interviewed weeks ago and was willing to take the job, Love or no Love. The Wolves still could circle back to him, but Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers now are interested. He also might be too defensive-minded for Saunders, who’s an offensive coach at heart. A package deal with offensive-minded Paul Westphal as his top assistant is possible if the Wolves change their mind.
A guy who has coached three different NBA teams fits Saunders’ criteria: He’s an experienced head coach and a candidate who understands the point-guard position and can help develop Ricky Rubio. He’d also insist his teams play defense and is believed to have interviewed for the job.
A 1,131-game winner who once seemed like the best bet to keep Love in Minnesota, he said Tuesday he has had no contact with Saunders. “I do think it is a great job and good roster!!” he said in an e-mail.
There’s also the chance a coach will unexpectedly become available the longer Saunders searches. Remember, Joerger’s availability to interview materialized in the last week. Saunders has vowed to search everywhere including Europe, where former Russian Olympic coach David Blatt just led his Israeli team to a Euroleague championship upset. There’s also the NBA assistant-coach route: This time last year, Phoenix plucked assistant coach Jeff Hornacek from Utah and he nearly won NBA Coach of the Year.