Memphis coach Dave Joerger returned to Minnesota and Target Center for Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, the first time he’s coached here since last summer’s courtship with his home-state team.
Raised in Staples, Minn., Joerger was in the unusual position in which the Grizzlies granted him permission to interview for the Wolves’ head-coaching opening while he was still contractually obligated to stay in Memphis.
Inevitably, Joerger received a contract extension to stay where he was with an NBA title challenger and Flip Saunders hired himself to coach the Wolves.
Joerger, 41, was asked Friday if his return reminded him what might have been.
“Nope, not at all,” he said. “Not today anyway, no nostalgia. I’m excited what they’ve got here. I’m happy for their team. I’m excited for Flip and Mr. [Glen] Taylor. They’re great people. They treated me nice. We were friends before and we’ll continue to be friends. I love them to death. There’s no weirdness or anything. It’s cool.”
Joerger came over to the Wolves owner’s courtside seat before Friday’s game and visited with Taylor for a spell while each man put his arm around the other.
Saunders and Joerger ate breakfast together earlier this season on the West Coast when their teams’ schedules intersected. Joerger once attended Saunders’ Wolves practice when he was a young coach coming up through the sport’s minor leagues.
“We have a good relationship,” Saunders said. “It worked out. It was a good situation for him. He has taken a team he was comfortable with, he knows them and they know him and you look where they’re at. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him just because of where he’s from and how he goes about doing things.”
Muhammad to return
Second-year forward Shabazz Muhammad — out these past 15 games because of a strained outer oblique muscle — likely will return for Monday’s home game against Atlanta.
Saunders said Muhammad probably won’t play Sunday at Detroit because he won’t be ready to play back-to-back games just yet, which makes Monday the target game.
Guard Mo Williams (hip) and rookie Zach LaVine (sprained ankle) both played through their injuries Friday. Forward Robbie Hummel (broken hand) remained out.
Brown signs new deal
The Wolves signed backup point guard Lorenzo Brown to a second 10-day contract. In those first 10 days, he has gone from playing all but five seconds of last Saturday’s loss to Cleveland to not playing at all Wednesday against Miami now that Ricky Rubio is back.
The Wolves will have to sign Brown for the rest of the season if they want him to stay after this 10-day contract expires.
“I think so,” Saunders said when asked if Brown has a future with the team. “We like what he’s done. We liked him when we drafted him. We thought he needed seasoning. He got some of that. He works extremely hard. He’s probably one of our better defenders. We like the things he brings.”
What friends are for
Friday’s game reunited Rubio with Spanish pal Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies’ star center and a starter for the West team in the upcoming All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. They had dinner together Thursday night.
Rubio has seen his friend transform his body and game from chubby teenager into sculpted big man who now is the game’s best center.
Asked if he tried to get Gasol to break his diet when the two dined together, Rubio said, “Yeah, but he asked for fish. I tried to get him fried rice, but he didn’t want it.”
• Saunders said rookie Glenn Robinson III likely is bound for the D League now that the Wolves are getting healthier, but not until after the All-Star break. “He needs to get some minutes,” Saunders said. “That’s going to be important for his development and our evaluation.”
• Orono’s Jon Leuer came off the Grizzlies bench late in the first quarter in his role as a backup “stretch” power forward.
• Memphis veteran Vince Carter did not play Friday because of a foot injury.