When the Timberwolves were in Las Vegas for Summer League, Flip Saunders left the coaching duties to assistant coaches Sam Mitchell, Sidney Lowe, David Adelman, and his own son, Ryan Saunders. (Flip) Saunders could be seen wandering amidst the crowd, doing interviews for NBA TV as well as watching the games, of course.
Keep in mind: the Wolves were still trying to figure out what to do about Kevin Love at the time.
One could speculate Saunders became the Wolves head coach by default. There was either no qualified candidate willing to take the job, or nobody who wanted the gig at all. Either way, it can be argued Saunders fulfilling the role of head coach was simply posturing. Doing so gave him leverage in any trade negotiations involving Love.
The overall feeling is the Wolves received the highest possible return-value in exchange for Love when they obtained Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. These three - along with Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad - are the foundation that Saunders will build around moving forward.
"One of the great things about having young players, as a coach, is you have a really significant impact on who they become down the road," (Flip) Saunders explained during Media Day, "You have to be prepared to work with them on a daily basis; mentoring them, communicating with them, being open with them, but also being hard on them."
"You have to treat these players like your own kids."
The Timberwolves hosted Dunks After Dark on Monday night, and into Tuesday morning, at the Taylor Center in Mankato. This was essentially a glorified practice/scrimmage. The event was open to the public, televised on NBA TV, and available via online stream.
The Wolves opened with layup drills before getting into the three-man weave. Saunders was clearly in charge, though his assistants and players were focused and involved. Nothing crazy happened here.
After the drills, the players and assistants were split into three teams. There were scrimmages with referees to call fouls and employees tracking statistics - just as there would be in a regular season game. During the contests, Ricky Rubio threw alley-oops to Wiggins, Kevin Martin was shooting well from behind the three point line.
Ryan Saunders, as he did during Las Vegas Summer League, took to some of the coaching duties with the other assistant coaches; Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe.
It was under Ryan Saunders, after an ugly first in a LVSL game against the Washington Wizards, the Wolves headed into the locker room where they were met by Flip - he was there to tell the group he wasn't happy with their performance. Flip treated his players just as he did Ryan, his son, for the way the team played during the first two quarters.
Even though Flip meandered around the building, briefly visiting with people around the crowd and going on TV - both in Las Vegas and in Mankato - he has always remained involved. When things weren't going well in Las Vegas, Saunders was sure to let his team know he wasn't pleased.
On Tuesday, though, Dunks After Dark went without a hitch. Through "ohhs" and "ahhs," fascinated by the Wolves' athleticism, the crowd expressed their approval when certain things happened during the intrasquad scrimmages. From my understanding, those watching on NBA TV and online streams saw less game play and more player interviews - NBA TV also welcomed Saunders to the broadcast.
Everyone was talking about the Wolves.
#DunksAfterDark is trending in the nation!!!! pic.twitter.com/eKL40dEjeR— Shahbaz Khan (@UMN_SK) September 30, 2014
Presumably, President and Basketball Operations and Head Coach of the Timberwolves is very busy. Sure one may hold two-job titles, but it's impossible for anyone to be two places at once. From what I've observed, and understandably so, Flip has prioritized one position more than the other.
Thus far, the President of Basketball Operations has traded Love, revamped the roster and avidly promoted the new group of players using methods never seen before. This is in addition to drafting Gorgui Dieng with a late 1st round pick last summer. Even for his biggest critics, it's hard to argue Flip hasn't done an exceptional job in the front-office.
On the other side, nobody can really know how much work "Coach Flip" has done behind the scenes to prepare for the season. Is he ready to be the Wolves head coach?
Yesterday, Flip welcomed Chauncey Billups as an honorary guest to the first day of training camp. I'm sure Mitchell, Lowe, Ryan Saunders and shooting coach Mike Penberthy were involved along with Kevin Martin, Mo Williams, and Thaddeus Young - the veterans - in keeping things going; mentoring and teaching along the way.
Between the mix of experienced players, young guys and qualified assistant coaches, Saunders, on some levels, has created a culture that is self-sufficient. Nevertheless, eventually, he'll have to coach the Timberwolves. Is Flip ready?