Thursday, June 5, 2014

Flippin Out

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing for any person to deal with. The happy memories are often followed by equally sad memories, or a longing to get back to the happy memories. It can be triggered with a simple song lyric or even driving by an old restaurant. Nostalgia happens. It's unavoidable.

Unfortunately, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor seems to live in nostalgia. Last off-season Taylor named former head coach Flip Saunders as the team's president, despite very little evidence suggesting Saunders would be well suited for the job. And today, he allowed Saunders to become the Head Coach again. Taylor and Saunders have had a close relationship since the first time Saunders coached the Wolves, and because he happened to be the coach when Kevin Garnett was here, he's the winningest coach in Wolves history. However, Saunders consistently had trouble developing young players not only in Minnesota but also in Washington. He traded the pick that became Ricky Rubio for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. One of David Kahn's few good moves in his time here, and it was a deal that ripped off the man that is now our current President. Oh, and the current Wolves GM, Milt Newton, also was part of that Wizards front office that agreed to the trade. Rubio would have been traded by Washington at this point anyway, but he certainly had a lot more trade value than Miller and Foye. Just a silly trade at the time that looks even worse now.

Saunders and Taylor, after botching the Dave Joerger negotiations, have agreed that Flip will return to the bench to be the Wolves coach for an unknown amount of time. Saunders and Taylor reportedly have an "open-ended" agreement that allows Flip to try to find a coach any off-season he chooses. Considering Saunders has wanted to coach the team since Adelman retired, I expect him to be the coach until Glen tells him otherwise.

Flip isn't a great coach. He's just not. His offense is heavily jump shot based, his teams have never been great defensive TEAMS (KG made some of his Wolves teams above average defensively) and as mentioned above, he has a terrible record working with young players. Many bandwagon Wolves fans will look at the hire and ultimately be fine with it, because they've heard of him and he did well the last time basketball was relevant in Minnesota.

Having Saunders and Milt Newton around to make the inevitable Kevin Love trade is even more worrisome. Common sense would suggest the Wolves take the best lottery pick offered and package of young players. If Cleveland wants Love, there's no reason the Wolves shouldn't pounce on a package centered around the #1 pick. Getting another franchise type talent is an absolute necessity in any Love trade, and in this draft that means a top 3 pick. Trading Love to Chicago for a package based around Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler is something Flip would have interest in, as he's not going to want to rebuild for the next few years.

Gibson and Butler are good players, and they would make the Wolves an improved team, even without Love, I think. However, neither player looks to be a franchise altering talent. Unless the team somehow was able to find a steal at #13, which is very unlikely, we'd likely be relegated to watching a 45-win team compete for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West for the next five or so seasons. With Saunders taking over as the head coach, I expect the Wolves to trade Love for a veteran package, possibly with some mid-to-late first round picks attached as sweeteners.

Oh, and next season, expect a lot of angry fans watching Ricky Rubio opt not to shoot, or even miss 20 foot pick and roll jumpers. I love Rubio, but his game is not tailored well at all to Flip's former offense. Maybe Saunders has learned to adjust to his personnel in the last decade, but as they say, you often can't teach old dogs new tricks.

However, because Flip's offense is shooting based, trading Love for a top 3 pick would be ideal. This would signal that the Wolves are rebuilding yet again, which would make winning games less of a priority (obviously). This would allow flip to tell Rubio to shoot every time he's open. The only way his shot will improve is with in-game reps, and the best way to get him those reps is in a season in which the team isn't competing at all. So while Saunders isn't a great coach, they could use one of his offensive strengths (creating open jump shots) to improve their point guards game a great deal. If that happens, Flip might be a success.

That said, I fully expect Saunders to be a disappointment, and while I'd love to be wrong, the Wolves history suggests I'll be exactly right.


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