Sam Mitchell should be named permanent head coach of the Timberwolves


If you somehow haven’t heard, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced that Flip Saunders is taking a leave of absence from the team after complications arose with his treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Assistant Sam Mitchell was named interim head coach while general manager Milt Newton will take over Saunders’ duties as president of basketball operations.

Before I get started, it’s only right to acknowledge Flip Saunders and his family during this difficult time as he battles lymphoma. From all of us at Dunking With Wolves, here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery for Flip.

Since this is a blog about the Minnesota Timberwolves, analyzing how Saunders’ departure will affect the team is important. As previously noted, Mitchell is taking over as interim head coach. What kind of impact might that have on the Wolves’ upcoming season?

It may sound harsh, but making Mitchell the permanent head coach due to this unfortunate situation is the best thing to do for the franchise.

I’m not just saying this because I disagree with some of the Saunders’ coaching philosophies. Promoting Mitchell to permanent head coach, at least for this season, makes sense for a number of reasons.

First of all, it allows Saunders to focus solely on his duties as president of basketball operations when he returns to the team. There have been numerous discussions on this site as well as other Wolves blogs and social media regarding Saunders trying to do both jobs at the same time. Saunders has already done a solid job assembling a group of young talents as POBO, but he would only become better if he could focus squarely on that. Additionally, it’s probably beneficial for Saunders’ health down the road.

Moreover, the Wolves wouldn’t have to deal with the adjustment to Saunders returning to the team as head coach in the middle of the season. According to Wolves CEO Rob Moor, the timetable for Saunders’ return is more in terms of months instead of weeks. This tells me that there’s a good chance Saunders will return to the team at some point during the season. If he returns as head coach, the players will have to readjust to playing under Saunders after already having adjusted to Mitchell before the season.

Mitchell’s coaching philosophy will probably be similar to that of Saunders’, as Mitchell played for Saunders and took a lot of that into his coaching career. However, having a different head coach will affect guys in ways that I don’t really know and can’t really describe. What I do know is that it will inevitably affect the chemistry of the team. It would be rough on the team, especially the younger players, to have to adjust again in the middle of the season when Saunders returns.

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Hypothetically, if Mitchell is made permanent head coach and does a poor job, then the Wolves can search for possible head coaching candidates next offseason. However, I’m pretty confident in Mitchell and what he’ll bring to the team. I mean, the guy can coach. He wasn’t named the 2006-07 NBA Coach of the Year for nothing.

Also, this is worth noting: In the 2006-07 season, the Toronto Raptors (Mitchell’s team) attempted 238 more three-point shots than the 2014-15 Timberwolves did (via For those that want to see the Timberwolves hoist more threes (myself included), having Mitchell as head coach will certainly help, although the three-point attempts waned a bit as Mitchell’s tenure continued in Toronto.

While it may seem harsh, relieving Saunders of his head coaching duties permanently is the best way to navigate this situation. It would be the best way to keep the players as comfortable as possible within the team chemistry. Additionally, it’s not like Saunders would be gone forever. He’d still be an important member of the front office and could be around the team often.

Again, my thoughts are with Saunders and his family as he fights. Cancer sucks.

For the sake of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sam Mitchell should be named the team’s head coach permanently. For a roster full of youth that’s still trying to get comfortable in the NBA, less turmoil is better.

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