Jun 5, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
When Vinny Del Negro becomes a serious candidate, your coaching search has nosedived.
Perhaps luckily for the Timberwolves, the man piloting the search – team president Flip Saunders – has plenty of coaching experience himself and can help Minnesota make an emergency landing.
Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:
APNewsBreak: Flip Saunders is taking the head coaching job with the Minnesota Timberwolves.—
Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) June 05, 2014
The first question: What does this mean for Kevin Love?
If the Timberwolves win enough next season, they might have a chance to re-sign Love. That type of turnaround is not unprecedented. The Trail Blazers changed an unhappy LaMarcus Aldridge’s perception of them this season, and now he wants to stay long-term.
But Minnesota would have to chance keeping Love beyond the trade deadline – let alone beyond the offseason, as his value will only diminish as the season progresses – and make the playoffs just to have a chance.
Can Saunders deliver the Timberwolves first postseason berth since he coached the team more than a decade ago?
Saunders first became an NBA coach with Minnesota, where he had a mostly successful 10-year run but – with only one exception – failed to get Kevin Garnett out of the first round. He jumped to the Pistons and reached the conference finals in all three years in Detroit, but Joe Dumars had higher aspirations and fired him. After a year off, he resurfaced with the Wizards, and – despite all his prestige – never got the team out of the cellar.
Is Saunders, once renowned for his expansive offensive playbook, trending down as an NBA coach? Has the league changed faster than he can adapt?
It’s also possible he just ran into bad fortune in Washington and can re-gain his status as one of the NBA’s better coaches.
At 59, he’s still young enough to do the job for several more years if he desires. However, his preference might be for the front office, which could mean coaching as a one-year stop gap until he can conduct a better search for a replacement next offseason.
Whatever Saunders does, keeping Love is a big long shot – not that Saunders is afraid to fight against the odds.
Marc Stein of ESPN:
If Saunders decides to go through with moving downstairs w/Wolves, sources say he is expected to pursue Chauney Billups as assistant coach—
Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 05, 2014
Billups is still under contract with the Pistons, though it’s unlikely they’ll exercise his $2.5 million team option for next season. A bigger problem: Billups has always said he wants to pursue a front-office, rather than coaching, career.
Perhaps, Saunders – who coached Billups in both Detroit and Minnesota – could persuade his former player to detour those plans. Billups signing with the Pistons last summer seemed like a precursor to a front-office position under Dumars, but with Dumars out, that might no longer be viable.
If Billups can get a front-office job somewhere next season – assuming he retires from playing, which seems probable, though not entirely certain – I bet he takes that over a coaching offer from Saunders. But working in coaching might be a means to the end.
Billups can look at his current team – former Orlando Magic and Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy is president, and former New Orleans Hornets coach Jeff Bower is general manager – and see a clear path between coaching and working in a front office.
He could also look as his potential next team and see the same.
- Durant says 2014 USA team better than 2010 version that won gold 4
- Kevin Durant knows you’re talking about his free agency but isn’t giving many clues. He liked what LeBron did. 16
- Byron Scott makes ridiculous optimism sound reasonable 40
- Derrick Rose told Carmelo Anthony that if he came to Chicago “the game would be easy” 40
- LeBron James strips on stage, throws clothes into crowd (video) 23
- Is DeMarcus Cousins the big man Team USA can lean on? 19
- Lakers make it official — finally — and hire Byron Scott as head coach 13
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 29