Former Wizards coach Flip Saunders has made his way back into the NBA, back in Minnesota, the place that he has called home for most of the past 40 years. After weeks of speculation, the Timberwolves introduced Saunders as president of basketball operations on Friday with the hope that his presence can help rekindle some of the success that the franchise had during his previous tenure.
“Is it a homecoming? I don’t know,” said Saunders, who played college basketball for the University of Minnesota and never moved after he was dismissed as coach of the Timberwolves. “My house has always been here, so I never really left. I still go get coffee at the same place and all those other things the same, so that hasn’t changed.”
Saunders agreed to a five-year deal with the Timberwolves and also has an ownership stake in organization that he served as head coach from 1995 to 2005. With Kevin Garnett as the centerpiece, Minnesota made the playoffs in each of Saunders’s eight full seasons with the team, including the 2004 Western Conference finals.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor fired Saunders and replaced him with vice president Kevin McHale after the team got off to a 25-26 start in the 2004-05 season. They haven’t made a postseason appearance since Taylor made that move.
“I’ve made a lot of great decisions in my life,” Taylor said in Saunders’s introductory news conference, “and a lot of things in business that have worked well. Occasionally I’ve made a wrong decision and perhaps supporting Flip leaving our organization as coach, is one of those things I’ve done wrong.”
Saunders moved on to Detroit, where he led the Pistons to three trips to the Eastern Conference finals before getting dismissed in 2008. The Wizards hired Saunders in April 2009 but fired him less than three years later after he led the team to a 51-130 record. His .282 winning percentage with the organization is the worst of any Washington coach with at least 100 games with the team. He still remained involved in basketball, as he advised Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and recently served as an ESPN NBA analyst.
“Glen talked about our relationship and how it started and how things come pretty much full circle,” said Saunders, who claimed 411 of his 638 career wins with the Timberwolves. “I think what happens is that as me as a coach and as an individual, you also learn. And one of the first things I learned is that when I left Minnesota what I missed about it, I missed the relationship that I had with my owner. Talking to other coaches that was always the most important thing, is that you have an open relationship and a trust factor between the two. So that became extremely important to me in having that. And that’s what I feel like we really have here.”
Saunders replaced David Kahn, whose option for next season was not picked up after he went 89-223 in four seasons in Minnesota. When asked how he would adjust to being in the front office after spending so much time as a head coach, Saunders replied, I don’t think my view will change as I said, as a coach you always coach.”
Rick Adelman is expected to return as head coach for the Timberwolves.