Flip Saunders is likely to make a return to the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. The two sides are in the middle of contract negotiations that would make the former NBA head coach the team’s president of basketball operations for the next five years.
Saunders and the Wolves are expected to make the news official as soon as next week. Current president, David Kahn, has a team option for next season that will not be exercised. Minnesota has failed to reach the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons and had a record of 89-223 in Kahn’s four years.
Both Saunders and the franchise’s owner, Glen Taylor, have declined to discuss the speculation with the media. Saunders was asked about the matter while working as an ESPN NBA analyst, but declined to comment. Taylor has yet to return phone calls seeking insight.
Saunders was the head coach in Minnesota for more than nine seasons, and took the team to eight consecutive playoff appearances. His tenure was the most successful in franchise history, and had much to do with the success of former MVP Kevin Garnett. The Timberwolves’ 2003-2004 season ended in the Western Conference Finals, thanks to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers. After starting the next season 25-26, Flip Saunders was fired in February. Before joining ESPN as an NBA analyst this season, Flip served as a consultant to Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics.
Kahn’s time in Minnesota has been much scrutinized, and for good reason. In his first draft after being hired in May 2009, he drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, both point guards, with the fifth and sixth picks. He has traded both Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer that are now key players on their respective teams. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are easily two of the best three players on the team, along with Rubio. Neither Love or Pekovic were scouted or drafted by Kahn; former GM Kevin McHale drafted both front court stars.
It is unclear whether or not the Wolves’ current head coach Rick Adelman will be back next season. He missed eleven games this season attending to his wife’s health issues.
One thing that is clear is that there is potential on the team’s roster. Love, Pekovic, and Rubio are all All-Star caliber players. Injuries were a huge factor in this season’s disappointing season. Brandon Roy returned from retirement to join Minnesota, but played just five games before his knees put him back on the bench. Rubio spent part of the season rehabbing from his knee injury from a year ago, Love broke his hand twice, and both Chase Budinger and Andrei Kirilenko both missed extended periods of time.
Taylor and the Timberwolves hope that Flip Saunders is the guy that finally gets them back into the postseason, this time in the front office instead of coaching.