It's rare to see an NBA team trade their superstar and become more desirable to prospective coaching candidates at the same time.
Earlier this summer, the Timberwolves coaching search ended on the inside as Flip Saunders looked in the mirror, nodded with approval, and selected himself to roam the sidelines in place of the retired Rick Adelman; rather than extend a long-term contract to a coach that may not fit the Wolves future two months down the road.
Love's tenuous situation only complicated the search process, with trade rumors serving as a red flag for several high-profile candidates like Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, and Memphis' Dave Joerger. In truth, who would be interested in coaching a Love-less Wolves team that used last season as a demonstration of his importance to the team? With Love on the court, the Wolves played playoff basketball. When he took a seat on the bench, the team dipped to levels comparable to the 76ers.
Though Joerger seemed on the brink of accepting the head coaching gig with the Wolves, it didn't come as much surprise that he fled back to Memphis and Saunders ultimately chose himself for the job; that was a realistic outcome discussed from the beginning of the offseason. But even after news broke that Saunders would enter the coaching ranks once again, his time coaching the Wolves has seemed destined to be short lived.
Once Saunders finds the right man for the job, whether it's a current member of his staff like Sam Mitchell or Ryan Saunders, a member of his inner coaching circle like Izzo or Hoiberg, or another coach that has yet to be discussed, I fully expect him to step out of the coaching spotlight and focus on his responsibilities as President of Basketball Operations.
Maybe I'm dead wrong. Maybe developing a roster loaded with youngsters will relight the fire to coach under Saunders. Maybe Saunders will embrace his coaching role and let Milt Newton take over the day-to-day GM responsibilities. Maybe he'll be the coach for years to come and perhaps Glen Taylor will not hold firm to his desire for someone else to coach. I could certainly see it happening, but it's also not the vibe I get.
How long Saunders actually coaches the new-look Wolves remains to be seen, but from my seat he appears to be a stopgap until Hoiberg can be convinced to ditch Iowa State, a year or two from now, or until another serious name like Izzo or Joerger pops up.
The Wolves lost out on every head coach they reportedly wanted this summer, whether or not you believe it was by design is up to you, but they came close to landing Joerger which at least signals to me that Saunders appears to be a stopgap. Why else would he come that close to signing Joerger if his plan was to coach the team long-term? Saunders struck out and did what any rational leader would probably do, he stepped in until he can find the right person to take over long-term.
Now that Love has officially moved on to Cleveland to team up with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the situation isn't so murky in Minneapolis. There's tons to be said about how the Wolves will look on the court, and how Saunders will develop the young talent, but one aspect of the blockbuster trade that hasn't been widely discussed is this: now that the Summer of Love is over the Wolves head coaching job should be exceedingly more desirable moving forward. It should also be an easier sell.
If Joerger knew that Love's departure would yield a return of Wiggins, Young, and Bennett I bet he would've reconsidered going back to Memphis. Actually, to take that one step further, I bet he would be the Wolves coach right now. My point, however, isn't that Joerger will be the next Wolves coach, it's that circumstances have greatly changed in the Wolves organization and one result of the blockbuster trade should be a shift in the future interest to coach the team.
If Hoiberg is truly pegged as a potential replacement, this move should make it harder for him to hold out at Iowa State. Earlier this summer, it was an easy decision for Hoiberg to stay loyal to his alma mater; the Wolves had no direction and their superstar was gearing up to change area codes. Jumping on board during one of the most turbulent times in franchise history would have been a risky, if not borderline insane, choice. Today, not so much.
Now the Wolves are armed with two highly-touted 19-year old prospects, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. They have three sophomores eager to prove doubters wrong and take the next step in their evolution (Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammed, and Gorgui Dieng). They have Ricky Rubio, a 23-year old looking to take the next step up the robust point guard latter in his fourth season with the team. They have veterans like Kevin Martin, Thad Young, Mo Williams, Nikola Pekovic, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, and Ronny Turiaf; players that should keep them fairly competitive each night. And most importantly, they have some direction. In fact, they might actually have an identity now as a defensive oriented, fast-paced, above the rim style team.
Therefore, when I see Hoiberg say that Wiggins is "going to be a superstar," and that "he's the whole package" in Charley Walters article this past weekend, I know one thing is clear: the Wolves head coaching position just got a lot more attractive. Even if they win 30 games next season, the cloud of uncertainty no longer hovers above Target Center. Whether or not Hoiberg ultimately leaves his comfy position with the Cyclones is a whole different story, but there should be an increased level of interest from coaches Saunders targets next time around if that's the route he and Taylor choose.