A familiar face is good to lead the Wolves in an unsure time

Published 2:47 am Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

The Minnesota Timberwolves franchise suddenly changed for the next decade in the summer of 1995.

Flip Saunders, fresh off a successful coaching stint in the Continental Basketball Association, was named the team’s head coach in May, and in June the Wolves selected Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick in the NBA Draft.

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Saunders and Garnett would go on to win 411 games over the next 9 1/2 seasons and make the playoffs in eight consecutive years, the team’s only postseason appearances in its 25-year history.

I was 8 years old that summer and at a sports bar in the Mall of America when KG’s name was announced. My dad was told before the draft began that I was too young to be in the bar, and that we needed to leave, but we ignored their request until the Timberwolves picked. I cheered loudly, though I didn’t yet know who Garnett was, and was wearing my blue Timberwolves jersey with Doug West’s No. 5 pressed on the front and back. I then got my picture taken with West, who was a special guest at the bar, and we headed home.

That was the summer I really began loving the NBA. Saunders and Garnett would become two of my biggest heroes until both departed Minnesota 10 and 12 years later, respectively.

Saunders, who has lived in Minnesota most of his adult life and played for the Gophers in college, returned to the Timberwolves in 2013 as President of Basketball Operations.

On Friday, Saunders was announced as head coach of the Timberwolves for the second time.

When Saunders took over as President of Basketball operations last year, it was presumed that then-coach Rick Adelman would retire after one more season. Saunders was adamant that he would not replace Adelman on the sidelines and echoed those statements this spring as the search began for a new coach.

Grizzlies coach David Joerger, another man with strong Minnesota ties, was rumored to be the frontrunner for the Wolves position and was allegedly even offered the job, but he spurned his home-state team and returned to the Grizzlies on a three-year contract extension, once again leaving Saunders searching.

With Joerger back in Memphis and other high-profile college coaches (close friends of Saunders), expressing their disinterest, Saunders really had no choice but to step into that position himself.

The Timberwolves have now missed the playoffs for 10 straight years, and while they have their best roster in a decade, the team’s lone star, Kevin Love, is likely to depart via trade or free agency within the year.

Very few quality coaches would be willing to step into such an uncertain situation, and it’s best to have a familiar face leading the team in such an unsure time.

Saunders will be faced with the task of building a talented roster and helping them succeed on the court. He is also a minority owner and will need to juggle all of those roles.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.