Minnesota Timberwolves President Flip Saunders will not let his miserable run with the Wizards go down as the lasting memory of his coaching career. After conducting a coaching search for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since he was on the sideline, Saunders decided that he was once again the best man for the job.
Saunders confirmed in a text message Thursday that he has added coaching to his list of duties as the organization enters a tenuous period. All-star forward Kevin Love will be a free agent next summer and has made it known that he wants out. By hiring himself, Saunders will have the chance to work closely with Love while also helping the franchise attempt to get back to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
Rick Adelman stepped down after last season, and the Timberwolves interviewed Memphis Coach David Joerger, former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and former Chicago and Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro for the position. Saunders has sounded hesitant about returning to the bench after returning to Minnesota for a front office position last year but he also never denied the lure of coaching.
Saunders now joins Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers and Stan Van Gundy in Detroit as coaches with executive authority. He claimed 411 of his 638 career coaching victories with the Timberwolves from 1995 to 2005. With Kevin Garnett as the franchise cornerstone, the Timberwolves made eight straight playoff appearances, including the 2004 Western Conference finals.
After his first stint in Minnesota ended, Saunders moved on to Detroit, where he led the Pistons to three straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals before getting dismissed in 2008.
The Wizards hired Saunders in April 2009, hoping that he could help the team make another playoff run with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. The first season was a flop, with Arenas’s gun incident leading to a franchise reboot. Saunders was eventually fired Jan. 24, 2012, after the Wizards stumbled to a 2-15 start. He went 51-130 in Washington and his .282 winning percentage is the worst of any coach in franchise history with at least 100 games.
Randy Wittman replaced Saunders and has since received two contract extensions after guiding the Wizards back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Saunders’s return to coaching raises questions about Wittman’s coaching staff.
Don Zierden, Sam Cassell and Saunders’s son, Ryan, were all brought to the organization as part of Saunder’s coaching staff in Washington. A person with knowledge of the situation said Saunders has yet to contact the Wizards about hiring any of them, but the team “wouldn’t be surprised” if he called. Saunders already brought former Wizards executive Milt Newton to Minnesota as general manager.
The Associated Press first reported Saunders’s move.