The Inevitability of Flip Saunders: Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach

Rob Carr

This one wasn't hard to see coming, but it still feels like a punch in the gut. Why is that?

In some ways, this comment sums everything up:

proactive: [proh-ak-tiv]
Adjective
1. Tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events 
2. Serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one; anticipatory

Antonym: Minnesota Timberwolves Management.

--Wile e. Coyote

I mean, really. Instead of vigorously searching for the best possible coach, they ignore a future Hall of Famer who wants the job, make hopeless swipes at a couple of college guys, interview unappealing re-treads, and wind up with Flip Saunders as head coach, in addition to President of Basketball Operations.

How else can we describe what happened here?  They began with a premise that they wanted someone with head coaching experience. The more I think about that, the less it seems like an actual attribute, and more like an excuse for lazy thinking. It eliminates a big swath of bright, energetic people with experience.

Then they went through the Joerger dance, in which, not for the first time, the Wolves were used to get someone a pay raise from their current employer.

They "flirted" with Sam Mitchell (rumored to be coming on board as an assistant), and VInnie del Negro, and then surprise! Flip Saunders is the man for the job.

Of course, this describes a failure of imagination and process.  There is another, more cynical view: this was the essence of the plan all along. Pretend to be interested in coaches you couldn't hire (Izzo, Hoiberg), leak names of coaches the fanbase didn't want you to hire (Mitchell, del Negro), and present yourself as the best alternative.

Either way, it comes off as entirely Wolvesian: tone-deaf, nepotistic, and banal.  When things have been going wrong for a decade, it might behoove you to look in the mirror.  This franchise operates in such a way as to invite situations like a mishandled coaching search (to say nothing of being forced to deal with the exit of your superstar two years earlier then you should have had to).

Glen Taylor, who insisted he wanted someone else to coach, must have been convinced, and why wouldn't he be? This is the same man who, upon hiring Saunders as POBO, bragged that he had a list of eight names to talk to, but was so comfortable with Saunders that he never got around to talking to any of them.

This is how the franchise runs.

Glen on Glen:

The gift I have is the selection of people. It seems like I have the ability to choose well when I meet someone. I bring them along with me and they stay with me for their entire careers. So, I think the ability to recognize people who have a skill set that is different, but complements mine and allows me to take on a business or transaction, has been one of my best gifts.

The irony, it burns. This "hire" is so perfectly in character for the Timberwolves. Sorry to be repetitive, but when you've been doing things like this for a decade, and they haven't worked...

Immediately after Rick Adelman retired, I wrote an article entitled Flip Saunders Should Rule Himself Out For Timberwolves Coaching Position.

In it, I made two points: that it would be nearly impossible to execute good process in a coaching search when the head searcher is also, at least potentially, a candidate for the job.  I wouldn't say I was prescient in writing that, it seemed like an obvious point.  And here we are.

The other point was that the role of POBO and Head Coach have different, and sometimes conflicting priorities. Given the current situation with Kevin Love, these conflicts are exacerbated.  As of this writing, I don't know how this will effect the Love situation, but it certainly doesn't help clarify.

My guess right now is that it makes it less likely that they trade him; that Flip thinks he can convince him to stay with a successful year.  Ignoring whether it's likely they have a successful year with Saunders at the helm, should the same guy be on both sides of this? What if the smart play given everything they know is to trade him?

To make this even more awkward, there are rumors floating around that the idea is for Flip to "groom" a "coach-in-waiting" who will be on his staff. Who that might be, I don't know, but what does that even mean? Do plans like that ever actually work?  If there is a guy you like, hire him. If he struggles early, live with it. Flip would be around as POBO to help with the "grooming" anyway.  The "coach-in-waiting" concept just announces: yes, even though we've been crap for a decade, we're putting ourselves in a holding pattern for another year or two before we get around to actually trying to move forward."  Terrific.

To put the final cherry on top of this Wolves-esque sundae, Zgoda reports that Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe are likely to join Saunders' coaching staff. Whether either one of them would be the "coach-in-waiting" is unknown, but can you think of a more Wolvsian trio than Saunders, Mitchell, and Lowe? What other alumnae are looking for work?

We haven't touched on Saunders' coaching record or style; frankly I'm not prepared to write about that yet. We'll have plenty of time to get to it.

But the symbolism of this...it just boggles the mind. I've harped on process so much since I took over the site. And this is why. What sort of process led us here? Either one without imagination, or one that was pre-ordained. In any event, not a good one.

Tomorrow's 1:00 pm presser should be a classic. Make sure you don't miss it. I'd love to do an MST3K style viewing. Where's Tom Servo when you need him?

So inevitable. So tone-deaf. So Country Club. So Wolves.

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