This isn't the way he wanted it, but Sam Mitchell is back as an NBA head coach for the first time since he coached Toronto in 2008.
The 2007 NBA Coach of the Year fired by the Raptors little more than a season later was promoted from Timberwolves associate head coach to interim head coach earlier this month when the team announced Flip Saunders had taken a leave of absence for at least the coming months because of complications resulting from his cancer treatments.
On Tuesday, Mitchell will lead the team through its first training-camp workout at its new practice facility. Last week, he discussed, among many other things, his team and his time away from head coaching as a television and radio commentator and NBA assistant coach as well as the prospect of coaching longtime friend Kevin Garnett.
Q It has been seven years since you were a head coach. These obviously aren't the circumstances you wanted, but did you always want to do this again?
A Yeah, once I made the decision to come back into coaching, to prove myself and show people I want to be a head coach again. I enjoyed my time in the media. I learned a lot, got to watch a lot of basketball. It still tugs at me a little bit with the circumstances, but we all have a job to do and we've got to be professional and do our jobs.
Q You said it at the news conference yourself and Glen Taylor said he has seen you mature. How will people who watched those Raptors teams see it now?
A That's not for me to say. I'm probably not as hard on myself and not as hard on people as I used to be. I'll probably still have my moments. But I appreciate life in different ways now. I can appreciate what these guys do, I can appreciate what assistant coaches do, I can appreciate what the media does now because I was there. Hopefully with that experience I have more patience and I look at things a little differently.
Q At this late date, will you run systems that Flip already has put in or bring your own?
A When all this happened, we hadn't met with Flip so we didn't know what Flip planned on doing. Flip didn't leave us a book with what he wanted done. The only instructions I was given from Mr. Taylor and Milt [GM Milt Newton] were to coach the team the way you see fit. … I'm going to do things a little different. I'm not going to come in here and try to be Flip. I can't be Flip. That would be a disservice to me, the organizations and the players.
Q This season: Win or develop?
A C'mon, do I have to say that? I guess I do, knowing the media. It's develop. We're in the Western Conference. We've got Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus [Jones], Shabazz [Muhammad], all these young guys who had one year in college. … Obviously, as a coach you want to win, but I won't sacrifice the development of this team to win two extra games. They have to learn how to play, how to grow, how to dig deep in games. We've got to develop our guys so in two or three years, we're OKC, we're competing not just for a playoff spot or division championship but for an NBA championship one day.
Q You've got eight guys 24 years old or younger and four guys 32 and older. How much can, will the veteran guys play?
A That depends on the game, that depends on how the young guys are playing. Mr. Taylor and I talked about this. We think our veteran guys add value not just in the locker room and at practice but game time, too. But we're going to give the young guys every opportunity to play.
Q How will your relationship as a teammate and friend with KG affect your ability to coach him?
A No, no, I got a job to do, KG got a job to do. He has been in the league 20 years, he understands. I'm going to have a different relationship with every player on this team. You don't coach every guy the same.
Q Are there things you learned from coaching Jose Calderon in Toronto that you'll apply to Ricky?
A They're two totally different people. I have to learn Ricky for myself.
Q Is he healthy and ready for camp?
A He's getting there. I don't know what that word "healthy" means. He's getting there. That's a question you have to ask the training staff. I left my doctorates at home, but I'll bring 'em with me tomorrow if you need me to.
Q Do you know if you'll get Nikola Pekovic on the court during preseason?
A I don't think he's going to be ready preseason. He's coming along nicely, but I have no expectations he'll be ready then. My name is Sam Mitchell, not Dr. Mitchell. One thing I don't do, I never walk in that [training] room and push for a guy to be on the floor.
Q You saw Karl-Anthony Towns' versatility in Las Vegas. Have you figured out how you will use him?
A We have some ideas. We're starting to formulate that, but I'm not going to tell you so you can put it in the paper and everybody in the league will know how we're going to play. Let us have at least one game.
Q How much easier does it make your job to have a roster that looks like it has a good bit of versatility and flexibility?
A I don't like that word "easy," but it gives you a chance to make it difficult for teams to scout you when you have players who can do multiple things. That's the thing I like about what Karl can do. I like that he can play inside, play outside. I like he can get a rebound and take one or two dribbles to facilitate a break. I like that he's an extremely hard worker. He's a smart player, but he's a young player.
Q You just might have two legitimate candidates for Rookie of the Year, Karl and Nemanja Bjelica. He's 27 and not your typical rookie. What are your expectations?
A He has experience. I don't have expectations right now. We're going too far here. We're just trying to get these guys in here and get a look at them.
Q Why give up so soon on Anthony Bennett? Isn't he the kind of raw talent that the best franchises develop?
A I wouldn't say we gave up on him. Look at the sheer numbers at that position and even take KG out of the equation and we have three, four guys who can play power forward. We just felt we had an overabundance of people at that position. It wasn't us giving up on A.B. His representative felt like they'd have a better chance somewhere else with a fresh start.
Q I know there's that interim title, but what kind of say will you have in personnel decisions that might need to be made in October?
A That's a conversation Milt and I have daily. When you're interim or in the last year of your contract, they try to say guys are not going to listen. If you think you're going to play on this team and have an advantage because I have an interim tag on my name, then you're thinking wrong. I don't coach that way. That's coaching from fear. … If you're organized and confident and you treat people with respect and people respect what you're trying to do, you don't have to worry about those things. Those things take care of themselves, and that's what I'm going to do.