Flip Saunders To Coach Timberwolves

FRIDAY, 1:10pm: The Wolves officially announced that Saunders will serve as their head coach and held an afternoon press conference.

THURSDAY, 11:19am: The move doesn’t affect Love’s thought process regarding an exit from the Wolves, sources tell Stein, largely echoing an earlier report from Holmes, as we passed along below (Twitter link).

11:05am: The coaching agreement between Saunders and Taylor is “open-ended” in terms of length, meaning Saunders will have the opportunity to revisit a search for someone else to coach the team in the future, Zgoda writes.

10:41am: Sources tell Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe that they strongly doubt Saunders’ decision to coach the team himself will convince Love to stay in Minnesota (Twitter link).

10:23am: Mitchell and Sidney Lowe are expected to become assistant coaches under Saunders, according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. There doesn’t appear to be a timetable for Saunders to coach, and neither Mitchell nor Lowe is a “coach in waiting,” Zgoda adds via Twitter. It’s unclear whether Billups will be a part of the staff, Zgoda also tweets, noting that he’s heard that Billups would prefer a basketball executive job, which falls in line with the guard’s assertion in March that several teams had gauged his interest in joining their front offices.

10:08am: Saunders has confirmed the news to Stein, and Saunders will continue to have the ultimate authority in the front office and work in concert with GM Milt Newton, Krawczynski hears (Twitter links).

9:54am: Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders will coach the team next season, reports Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press (Twitter link). The news comes just minutes after Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that Saunders was strongly considering the move. The team failed to gain traction with several other coaching candidates, and while the prospect of Saunders returning to the team’s bench has been in play since before former coach Rick Adelman retired at season’s end, it never appeared to be the team’s first choice.

Saunders is likely to target Chauncey Billups for an assistant coaching position, even though Billups remains under contract as a player with the Pistons. Detroit has a $2.5MM team option on Billups for next season, but he’s indicated that he’s thinking about retiring. Saunders will also reach out to Israeli league coach David Blatt and one-time Wolves head coaching candidate Sam Mitchell for jobs on his staff, Krawczynski hears (Twitter link).

Saunders’ decision to coach is met with excitement from Ricky Rubio‘s camp, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities, pointing out that negotiations over Rubio’s rookie scale extension will begin soon (Twitter link). Perhaps of greater concern to the Wolves and teams around the league is how Kevin Love will receive the move. The team had reportedly been holding off on trading Love, who appears to want out of Minnesota, until they named a new coach, ostensibly to allow the team to have its house in order before it lobbies a strong effort to convince Love to stay.

The Wolves had interviewed Mitchell, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins in addition to Dave Joerger, who seemed to come within a hair’s breadth of becoming the team’s coach before he patched up his relationship with the Grizzlies and signed an extension to stay in Memphis. The Wolves also reportedly went after high profile college coaches Fred Hoiberg, Billy Donovan and Tom Izzo, but apparently had no luck prying them from campus. The team also appeared to have interest in Stan Van Gundy, but it wasn’t mutual, and he wound up taking a dual front office/coaching role with the Pistons much like the one Saunders is embracing in Minnesota.

Saunders said “never say never” on multiple occasions this spring when asked about the prospect of coaching the team himself, though he had publicly downplayed the possibility. There were mixed messages about whether Saunders wanted to coach and whether owner Glen Taylor was on board with the idea, but Wolfson says Taylor was always going to proceed with whatever plan Saunders had in mind (Twitter link). Saunders returns to the role in which he took the Wolves to all eight of their postseason appearances during his tenure on the team’s bench from 1995-2005. He went on to coach the Pistons and Wizards before taking over the Wolves front office last year, and is 638-526 in parts of 16 seasons as an NBA head coach.

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