One day after Timberwolves part-owner, president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders died, team owner Glen Taylor said Monday he has already put his team on course for a season without the man who completely rebuilt the team’s roster.
When Saunders was hospitalized in early September, Taylor split Saunders’ duties, promoting associate head coach Sam Mitchell to interim coach and expanding General Manager Milt Newton’s duties.
“I think I’ve done probably what I need to do at this particular time,” he said.
Now, Taylor said both men will have the chance to show they’re fit for the jobs permanently. Taylor said Mitchell will retain the title of interim coach.
He likened the situation to a player getting his chance because another player gets injured and the first player never gives up his starting spot again.
“When something sad happens or something you don’t want to happen, it does not necessarily project that it’s all negative,” Taylor said. “Sometimes positives can happen. Let’s see what these people can do. Let’s see what their leadership is. Going through a difficult time, maybe we’ll see people bloom into what they might not have otherwise. I’ve seen that happen a number of times.”
Taylor said the only difference now is he will be more involved than if Saunders were on the jobs.
“If there was a concern, I was really confident Flip would handle it,” Taylor said. “I’m not uncomfortable that people can’t handle it, but I’ll probably be closer, more observant and be willing to step in and give advice or help sooner just to make sure the team knows I’m there and I support them.”
Taylor also said Monday:
• The Wolves intend to wear a patch on their uniforms and/or warmups this season to honor Saunders, but it first must be approved by the league. He said he expects players to write their own expressions on their shoes or ankle tape. “That’s kind of a tradition when people are thinking of other people,” he said.
• The team has had discussions with Saunders’ family about coordinating services with the team’s opening-week travel plans so players and coaches can attend. He also said there has been discussion about a public Target Center event. Details had not been determined for either as of Monday afternoon.
• Taylor is “certain” there will a remembrance for Saunders before Monday’s home opener against Portland.
The Wolves’ 15-man roster for Wednesday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers was set Monday: Saunders solely drafted, traded for or signed 12 of the 15 players. Only Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic pre-date his time as president of basketball operations. Newcomer Nemanja Bjelica was drafted by Saunders’ predecessor, David Kahn, in 2010 and Saunders signed him last summer.
Lapel pin for peers
NBA Coaches Association President Rick Carlisle said the organization will honor the memory of Saunders by having league coaches wear a “Flip” lapel pin this season. The Dallas Mavericks coach praised Saunders’ “strong voice for the profession of NBA coach.”