FRIDAY, 10:14am: Saunders recently experienced complications related to treatments that he’s completed for his cancer, and he’s undergoing tests and treatment at a Minnesota hospital, the team announced via press release, adding that GM Milt Newton will take on an expanded role in the front office while Saunders recovers. The team also confirmed that Mitchell will serve as interim head coach. Wolves CEO Rob Moor says the timetable for the return of Saunders, who is taking what the team calls a leave of absence, is a matter of months, not weeks, tweets Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.
“First and foremost, my immediate concern is for the Saunders family and the health of Flip,” owner Glen Taylor said in the team’s statement. “Our priority right now is for him to regain his strength so that he can be 100 percent when he returns to his Timberwolves duties. In the interim, I remain confident in the direction of our team. I have known Sam Mitchell for a number of years, back to his playing days in Minnesota. He is a former NBA Head Coach of the Year. I have no doubt he will get the most out of our players and will continue to serve as a great mentor to our young and talented players as interim head coach.”
Newton, also quoted in the release from the team, expressed confidence in Mitchell and said he doesn’t anticipate a change in the team’s basketball philosophy, and Mitchell conveyed similar sentiments in his contribution to the statement and in his comments during today’s press conference, as the Wolves relay via Twitter.
THURSDAY, 3:03pm: The Timberwolves will soon name assistant coach Sam Mitchell as interim head coach while Flip Saunders continues to battle cancer, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Saunders had planned to stay in his dual jobs of head coach and president of basketball operations despite his treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but it appears that plan has changed. Hope exists for Saunders to return to the bench at some point this season, Wojnarowski adds (on Twitter).
Saunders, 60, has a career regular season coaching record of 654-592 that he compiled as head man of the Timberwolves, Pistons, and Wizards. His career regular season mark in Minnesota is 427-392, and his Timberwolves teams have gone 17-30 in the postseason.
Mitchell has previous head coaching experience, having spent four plus seasons as coach of the Raptors from 2004/05 through part of the 2008/09 campaign. He won the Coach of the Year award in 2006/07, when the Raptors went 47-35 and won the Atlantic Division. Through 345 regular season games Mitchell has compiled a mark of 156-189, and he owns a lackluster 3-8 postseason mark. He had previously interviewed for the head coaching job with the Wolves, and he is reportedly a favorite of owner Glen Taylor after having spent 10 seasons with the franchise as a player. The 52-year-old’s most important task this season as coach will be to continue developing Minnesota’s wealth of young talent.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this post.