I've gotten on Flip's case a lot over the years. There's no question about that. But it was always about basketball; never about the man.
Flip the human being was awesome. A mild-mannered, affable, next door neighbor type of guy who embodied the stereotype of Minnesota Nice while also being 'the other guy' who defined Minnesota basketball for the past 20 years.
I was not a fan of his system, particularly after the rule changes made a lot of it obsolete. I'm still not. But his body of work as a whole in the coaching ranks speaks for itself. Over 700 career wins as a coach. And the fact remains that, when it was all said and done, the Wolves have never accomplished anything truly meaningful without Flip somewhere in Target Center.
My last conversation with Flip was innocuously casual.
Hey, good to see you. Good to see you too, how is everything? Great work getting Tyus at the end of the first round. Thanks, we really had our fingers crossed. Any idea if you'll be keeping Justin Hamilton? No, we don't know yet.
That was basically it. Minor shop talk, the same as any of dozens of other 2-3 minutes chats we'd have. We never knew each other on a personal level, but we were connected nonetheless. He coached the team I loved and I wrote about how I thought he was doing. He knew I was one of his bigger critics. We never argued over it. He never took it personally. That's just the man he was.
For the team, this loss is particularly acute. Kevin Garnett would not have come back if Flip hadn't been here, and he was more excited than he's been in years to play for him again. On the other end of the spectrum, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones barely got to know him. Flip opened the door to the NBA for them. Now he's gone before getting to coach them in a single game. And for all the kvetching I did about his playbook, I did take great confidence in knowing Flip was a coach would would connect and take care of the young guys. Some coaches do a lot of damage to young players with verbal abuse or by alienating them. That was never going to be a problem with Flip. He was as much a dad to the rookies as he was a coach.
But we at least have this: while Flip may be gone far too soon, what he set in motion will carry this team for years to come. Whatever the Wolves come to be defined as will inevitably have Flip's signature on it. These are his guys. Wiggins, Bazz, LaVine, Dieng, even Rubio. He assembled a roster more his own than any other, including the one that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. And Flip's last, great act for Minnesota basketball was to add KAT and Tyus to the family, and to bring KG home. He saved the best for last - something that the team he loved can use to become better than they've ever been.