(Updated at 3:30 p.m. CT, April 21st)
Now that Rick Adelman has officially retired and the Wolves are coach-less, we can begin the guilt-free speculation regarding his successor.
There have already been quite a few names thrown around by national and local types alike, but let’s sort through all names that have been mentioned by credible (or even semi-credible) sources. Flip Saunders has already made it known that he’d like to hire someone with a wealth of experience and a track record of success, presumably for no other reason than to try and keep Kevin Love in the fold. So we’ll start there.
George Karl - Every single available coaching position will see this name surface as a possibility, as Karl has the most wins (1131) of any unemployed and non-retired coach. He was last seen being fired after winning the NBA Coach of the Year award with the 57-win Denver Nuggets of the 2012-13 season, and has spent the current campaign as a studio analyst for ESPN. He would be the winningest option for Saunders to bring on board, but at 62 years old and another coach with a wealth of experience, might not be the best long-term choice, or the best coach to work hand-in-hand with Saunders and the front office.
Stan Van Gundy - SVG hasn’t coached since being fired after the 2011-12 season, also known as the Dwightmare. He’s only coached Miami and Orlando in his career, and although he is 54 years of age, he’s relatively young in coaching years as his first season as a head coach wasn’t until 2003-04 with the Heat. He’s often rumored to be unlikely to leave the southeast region of the country, and he seems to be a fellow that is enjoying his joblessness and doesn’t feel the need to deal with another will-he-or-won’t-he superstar saga. He’d be a great get, but it’d be hard to blame him for avoiding Lovemare/Dwightmare Part II.
Jeff Van Gundy - Stan’s brother has been out of the coaching business since coaching the Houston Rockets in 2006-07. He’s still just 52 years old, and has been biding his time in the broadcasting realm with ESPN, waiting for the perfect job to come along. Tough to say if he’d be a good match with Saunders, but his name always comes up, so here it is.
Lionel Hollins - Hollins is the least experienced of the coaches in the experienced/track-record group. He’s only won 415 career games over six full NBA seasons, and was fired after last year’s edition of the Memphis Grizzlies lost in the conference finals. He’s a defensive-minded, old-school-ish coach that wouldn’t necessarily fit with the current personnel, but would bring a distinctly different voice to the locker room. I wouldn’t love this hire, but you could do worse.
Flip Saunders - Flip deserves his own category, but he’s experienced and he technically has a track-record. By all accounts and despite Wolvesdom/my own cynicism, Saunders is a fine coach. Nobody could blame him for the train wreck that was the Washington Wizards from 2009-12, and he reached the conference finals three consecutive years with the Detroit Pistons. His offensive play-calling and philosophy aren’t a fit in the modern NBA or with the Wolves’ current personnel, but who knows. Saunders may find it in himself to alter his offense to fit the current personnel.
he main positive would potentially be the ability to get Kevin Love to stay in Minnesota, as Saunders had success with one Kevin Garnett in the same regard. Keep in mind that owner Glen Taylor reportedly has a strong preference that Saunders stay in his current front office role and not take on coaching duties as well, but Saunders himself has refused to rule out the possibility.
The College Coaches
Tom Izzo - Izzo’s name has been tossed around for awhile now in NBA circles, most seriously when he nearly accepted the Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching position in the summer of The Decision, ultimately (and correctly) being scared off by the uncertainty surrounding LeBron James’ status. Izzo has a fantastic gig at Michigan State, and there really isn’t any good reason for him to want to make the always-dangerous jump to the NBA, other than boredom at the college level. He has made some comments of late that hint at some disillusion with the NCAA as a whole, and it’s unlikely that the speculation will suddenly disappear. Add the insistent reminders that he and Flip are good friends, and you have a guy that’s certainly near the top of Saunders’ shortlist.
Fred Hoiberg - Another college head coach with strong Minnesota/Flip Saunders ties, Hoiberg played on the most successful Wolves teams in history under Flip Saunders and remained in the front office until taking his current role in Ames in 2010. Known as “The Mayor” and coaching in his hometown and at his alma mater means that it would take a lot for Hoiberg to leave Iowa State, but his relationship with Saunders will be a big factor. He lacks the true experience that Saunders is calling for, so despite his name cropping up frequently, the timing doesn’t seem right. If I had to bet on it, I’d say that someday Hoiberg returns to the Wolves, likely as a head coach, but not right after signing a lucrative, 10-year contract extension with his hometown school. While an option, Hoiberg probably isn’t near the top of any realistic list. (Update: Darren Wolfson reports that Saunders told Chad Hartman that Hoiberg “isn’t happening”.
Billy Donovan - This is a wild card name that was first dropped by ESPN’s Marc Stein just this morning after the Adelman press conference. Arguably a top-three college coach, Donovan would seemingly be a slam dunk, outside-the-box hire for the Timberwolves. Back in 2007, however, Donovan accepted the Orlando Magic head coaching job, even taking part in an introductory press conference with Orlando and a farewell press conference at the University of Florida, before changing his mind the next day and returning to Florida, where he remains today. If he’s indeed ready to jump to the pros this time around, one wonders if he’d be willing to make the move to the Twin Cities. I would say this is very unlikely, given his success at Florida and lack of professional coaching experience, but he’s surely on Saunders’ list somewhere.
Current NBA Coaches Rumored To Be Fired
Mark Jackson - This is purely speculation, but after the unfairly lofty expectations placed on the Golden State Warriors after last spring’s surprisingly successful playoff run, Jackson’s squad won “only” 51 games in 2013-14, and ownership is apparently not always fond of Jackson’s coaching style and ancillary, off-the-court things. Personally, I think he means well and should be a good coach, but his rotations have been questionable for the better part of his time in Golden State. Jackson also doesn’t have the experience that Saunders likely seeks, as the Warriors are his first coaching gig of any kind. This hire is unlikely for a number of reasons.
Tyrone Corbin - Corbin is all but gone as the head coach of the Utah Jazz, and his tenure there has been largely nondescript. He hasn’t had much talent to write home about, and he also hasn’t done much in developing what he does have. The connection with the inaugural Timberwolves team and the opportunity to coach a point guard like Ricky Rubio will likely keep his name in the conversation, but the experience/success factor will likely outweigh any serious candidacy for the position. (Update: News camedown this afternoon that Corbin is indeed out after three seasons as Utah’s head coach.)
We’ll update this list with any news/rumors that land in the Twittersphere throughout the NBA playoffs. It should be a fun ride, and as long as it doesn’t end with Flip Saunders on the bench once again, the Wolves should end up with a satisfying hire.