Flip Saunders is The Man In Minnesota once again


Flip Saunders returned to the Timberwolves organization as the President of Basketball Operations and partial owner on May 3, 2013.

Just over a year later, in June of 2014, Flip announced that he was going to serve as the head coach while still maintaining his basketball operations responsibilities. That made him one of the most powerful decision makers in the NBA.

The first time around, Flip was the man. Flip was a voice in the Kevin Garnett draft and he was also an important part of the 2003-04 run to the Western Conference Finals. But then, Glen Taylor fired Flip in the middle of the 2004-05 season when the team was struggling, which Taylor said he regrets. Then Flip led the Detroit Pistons to three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals bids but was fired in 2008 after losing in all three. Flip was hired by the Washington Wizards in 2009, but recorded a record of 51-130 before being fired in 2012.

Saunders came back in 2013 to much fanfare after the firing of the much-maligned David Kahn. Some had their doubts about Flip, of course, especially because of what he did most recently in Washington. We didn’t know if Flip could duplicate his success in Minnesota.

In Saunder’s first draft as personnel boss in 2013, he traded back and drafted Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Minnesota fans were generally unhappy because Trey Burke, who led Michigan to the National Championship game that year, was selected by the Utah Jazz with the Wolves’ original pick.

The Wolves’ didn’t make the playoffs in the 2013-14 season and we all knew what that meant – Kevin Love was going to want out of Minnesota. Days became weeks, and weeks became months. Love gave an awkward interview on ESPN SportsNation. Rumors swirled.

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The Golden State Warriors reportedly offered Minnesota a trade that included Klay Thompson, but Minnesota apparently turned them down. The Denver Nuggets were another possible suitor in the Kevin Love sweepstakes, but they couldn’t offer enough. Flip continued to wait and Minnesota fans became impatient.

Then, LeBron James went home.

Suddenly, all the pieces of the eventual Kevin Love trade fell into place. Cleveland was awarded the number-one-overall pick for the third time in four years prior to LeBron announcing he was going back to Cleveland. Cleveland drafted Wiggins and eventually traded him to the Timberwolves two months later.

Halfway through the 2014-15 season, front office executives were already proclaiming that Minnesota won the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade. And it’s all because Flip played the waiting game.

Another sly move  was re-signing Ricky Rubio to the four-year contract prior to the final deadline to do so. Whether you liked the signing or not, Rubio’s agent was allegedly pushing hard for him to leave, and Flip got Rubio to sign on the dotted line.

Flip’s quietest move was one that no one noticed, of course: the signing of Arinze Onuaku. It was huge because it helped the Wolves receive the #1-overall pick. Onuaku was the ultimate tank job!

Now, fast-forward to this off-season.

Flip inked KG to a two year deal. He brought Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica over. He traded Chase Budinger. He drafted Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones. Finally, Saunders signed Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince to team-friendly contracts. Flip established team depth this off-season at multiple positions.

Also, players seem to be improving under Saunders. Zach LaVine improved mightily over the course of last season. Muhammad was in contention for winning the Most Improved Player award before being injured. Wiggins took leaps last season and Gorgui has continued to improve.

Should Flip Saunders hire a new coach in the next year? Yes. If the Wolves had a different coach last year, would that have mattered? Nope. Let’s cut Saundres some some slack for last season, but if he doesn’t hire a new coach next off-season, then it’s fair to be a tad critical.

Only five players from the 2013-14 roster remain on the Wolves’ roster. Flip has made the correct trades even if there was a lot of luck involved and he has made the right signings.

Flip continues to be the man in Minnesota.

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