“Flip Hires Flip,” and The Thing We’ll Have to Get Over

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls

In case you missed it (and at this point I doubt anybody reading this site missed it) Flip Saunders has been named head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He actually appointed himself leader of the sideline from his lofty perch where he currently sits as president of basketball operations. This is the second time that Saunders will coach the Wolves. He is the franchise’s career wins leader by a huge margin from the days when he led from the sidelines the teams led by Kevin Garnett on the court. They made the playoffs a bunch of times.

Purely on the merits: Saunders is a decidedly satisfactory basketball coach. He’s coached good players to pretty good seasons. He’s coached great players to very good seasons. He’s coached undeveloped players to terrible seasons. He is respected but not necessarily admired. For more on What Hiring Flip Saunders Means, check out Andrew Sharp’s piece for Grantland, or Britt Robson’s for MinnPost.

The part that I need to write about today is something I’ll try to avoid harping on too much in the future. Beating dead horses is a hobby of mine and many other writers – particularly ones that devote their time and energy to this frustrating franchise – but it gets tiring and is usually not fun to read.

But for at least one time through, I need to vent about just how much bullshit obviously went into this process of hiring a coach.

What I mean by that is simple: For over six weeks the Timberwolves have been pretending to conduct a coaching search — a search led by Flip Saunders — when the entire time it was painfully obvious that Saunders planned to coach the team himself.

My co-editor Patrick summed it up nicely in a frustrated email, yesterday (that I’ll quote here with his consent):

The fact that Flip made such a pathetically transparent attempt to maintain the pretense that he was seeking to hire someone else for the job is nearly as infuriating as the fact that he’s going to be the coach for the foreseeable future. So lame. Basketball issues aside, I’d have far more respect for him if he’d have avoided the charades, hired himself immediately, and justified it by saying he believed he was the best person for the job. We’d all disagree with him, of course, but that would’ve been far less embarrassing than whatever you’d call the course he ended up pursuing. Ay yai yai.

That perfectly summarizes what is so annoying about all of this.

Consider, for instance, Sid Hartman’s column today that was dense with Saunders quotes. Taken together, Saunders’ characteristically vague statements suggest that one and only one person was effectively offered the job, before it was handed to Flip by Saunders. That was Jeff Van Gundy, the overqualified ABC/ESPN analyst who would not be considered a realistic candidate for a Midwestern rebuild. Much like the ostensible courting of NCAA legends Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan, Van Gundy was a convenient offeree because there was no chance that he would accept. That leaves Flip holding up his hands and ah, gee, shucks, I guess I can coach this team.

Also consider today’s press conference with owner Glen Taylor and Saunders. It doesn’t take a genius to pick apart the statements of both men and walk away unconvinced of anything.

Taylor’s opening remarks included a list of reasons why he felt Flip was the man for the [coaching] job. Let’s take them one at a time:

1. “First of all, we have our team pretty well set in the sense that we have a lot of people under contract. Flip knows those people very well. They know Flip and I think that our players will be comfortable that this is not a great huge change. They know where we’re going.” 

***The problem: This team has a franchise player who is about to be traded away. It seems possible, if not likely, that another rotation player (possibly a starter like Kevin Martin) will depart alongside Love. Continuity is not expected from a roster point of view. This reason for hiring Saunders, then, does not make sense. Oh, and this group finished under .500 last year and was widely considered a disappointment. Why do we even want continuity?

2. “We wanted to make the decision that if we let it go too long, it’s always important to get assistant coaches that fit our particular needs. By doing it now, I think we can attract the people to that job that will suit us well into the future.”

***The problem: Really? They hired Saunders so that they could secure Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe as assistants? Are they even good assistants? I know they used to play for the Timberwolves, but that’s about it.

3. ” And then I think just the need to make a decision for the draft, for any other reasons other than just to wait over the summer and not have that unknown out there probably wasn’t going to serve us well.”

***The problem: It isn’t like Rick Adelman retired yesterday. (His own presser when he stepped down was way back on April 21.) They’ve had PLENTY of time to hire a coach. George Karl already said that he’d like this job. The only time crunch the Wolves face with the draft is self-imposed. Because they dragged their feet chasing unrealistic candidates.

4. “I also just want to comment at this time. We have a lot going on in our organization with the new practice facility and Flip has been helping and assisting other people and we’re excited about the opportunity that that brings. We’re excited about the opportunity of remodeling the Target Center, so we have a lot of things going.”

***The problem: Okay, it’s probably unfair to include this statement here, but it’s in the same portion of the presser transcript. Still, I sincerely hope that Flip isn’t somehow being rewarded for his business skills with a new coaching gig.

5. “I feel really good about this decision because I’ve said it before, Flip and I are friends, have been friends and continue to be friends and is someone that I trust and have a great deal of confidence in. I’m confident that this is the right decision at this particular time.” 

***The problem: Comfort is much too common a word around the Target Center. For more on this, see Dr Lawyer Indian Chief’s post after Flip was hired as president, last year.

In other segments of the presser, it seems like Taylor was possibly serious when he stated a while back that he preferred to have coach and president separate from one another. When asked about possibly hiring a “coach in waiting” to initially serve as assistant, Taylor seems more enthused than Saunders. Flip isn’t even artful at dodging questions, but he tries anyway. (You might recall a while back when he was asked if he was going to coach and he answered with something to the effect of, “We haven’t had that conversation” rather than, “No.”)

Consider Flip’s answer to how long he is going to coach:

“This is a step by step. I don’t think we’re going to put a timeline on it. As Glen said, we talked about this and we’d go this year and reevaluate it after this year and see where we’re at.”

***Translation: “I’ll coach as long as it goes well.” Which makes his situation just like every other NBA coach’s.

Consider his thoughts on possibly grooming an assistant for the head job:

“You have to understand this. As a president, as a manager, as an owner, as a general manager, you are constantly evaluating every day. What I mean by that is we evaluate players. We evaluate scouts. We evaluate assistant coaches who might have the opportunity to be head coaches. We evaluate developmental coaches that might be good assistant coaches. When we put together our staff, we’re going to put together our best staff right now for our team. As Glen said, one of the prime areas is going to be individual development, so we’re going to put together a staff based on that along with some veteran leadership.  If out of that group we find somebody that might have the opportunity to develop into that, then that’s something of course we would entertain. I don’t believe we’re in the situation that we’re going to anoint anybody as a coach in waiting. Because one, it wouldn’t be fair to them. I think everyone, no matter who it is, you always want to earn your stripes in what you’re doing.”

***Translation: (Eds note: I don’t actually know what that answer means.)

So there you have it. Like I said, I’ll try to get over this and focus on the issues that matter. The process of hiring the coach is complete and now we can only sit back and watch how it plays out.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““Flip Hires Flip,” and The Thing We’ll Have to Get Over

  1. Nathan Anderson

    In Boston and just saw a NESN commercial that showed a clip of Kevin Love. Sigh.

    • It just keeps getting better and better. What I expect is a period of even more significant disappointment (when we’re forced to trade Love for $0.60 on the dollar rather than waiting until the trade deadline and peddling him for $0.45) before things get any better than they are now. This recession will be punctuated by the excitement of the draft, but that will feel like it was fool’s gold by the time the season starts and reality sets in. Our assets — whatever Flip can get for Love, plus Rubio, Pekovic, and maybe Dieng — are likely to struggle for at least half a season, but probably longer. Perhaps those assets will make the summer heading into the 2015-16 campaign more intriguing, but only if our POBO/coach is able to translate Love into the right kind of assets–tangible, realistic, stock. To me, this is more interesting than Flip having been allowed to take the job and the (inevitable) fact that the Wolves *will* trade Kevin Love.

      Everything meaningful relies on that trade. Assuming this premise, are we *really* enthusiastic in any way about any potential Boston deal? I’m not.

      Chicago’s probable offer might be the highest risk and the highest reward, which is ironic given how conservative the Bulls have been in developing young talent and in how they’ve accumulated the assets they now have. (The big coup– Mirotic– was largely luck, thanks to Chicago being in the right place at the right time–buying from David Kahn when Kahn had to sell Wolves draft picks like they were state lottery tickets in order to pay the bounty on Kurt Rambis’ head and keep his job.)

      This season’s going to be a test.

      • Nathan Anderson

        Yes. Significant disappointment.

        Assuming Love is traded, the lead up to next season will be interesting. It seems like Saunders and Milton are doubling down on the “team will be better” after a trade and “Love was not a leader” angle.

        But I find it hard to fathom how this team will improve without Love. Fortunately, for them, even when this team sucks I foresee a nice Souhan or whomever column about what a joy it is to watch this 32-50 team because they play hard each night and there is no whining and that things are looking up with the new core going forward.

        I’ve been with this team since Pooh over Hardaway. I remember them dissing on KG after they traded him.

        All of that said, I hope the team somehow finds a way to be better without Love. Otherwise, it is going to be such a bummer. Again. Again. Again.