Basketball / Sports

Flip Saunders will return to coach Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- Flip Saunders will be the next Minnesota Timberwolves coach and will be introduced Friday in a Target Center news conference.

He confirmed in a text message Thursday morning that he will coach the team but declined further comment until Friday.

According to sources close to the situation, there is no specified length of time that he'll coach, although he has suggested before it would only be for a season or two if he did decide to coach.

When it's all sorted out, Saunders' staff is expected to include former Wolves players Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe, although it's not certain yet if either is a coach-in-waiting to take the job next.

It's not known if one of Flip's former players, Chauncey Billups, or European coach David Blatt will be added to the staff and possibly could become that future coach-in-waiting.

Billups is currently under a player's contract with Detroit and Blatt still is busy coaching his Israeli team.

It's also quite possible Saunders' son Ryan--currently under contract as a Washington assistant--will eventually join the staff.

"I like Flip, he's the best coach the Timberwolves have ever had," Wolves forward Corey Brewer said about today's news. "It's all about winning."

Saunders has a 638-526 regular-season record in 15-plus years of NBA head coaching, the first 10 seasons of those as the Wolves head coach.

He has led teams to the conference finals four times--once with the Wolves, three times with Detroit--in those 15-plus seasons.

Taylor's agreement with Saunders to coach is open-ended in terms of year. It's possible he could go back in a year and two and see if he can convince either Michigan State's Tom Izzo or Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg to take the job if the timing is then better for either man.

According to a source, there was a time during the search that Saunders thought he had convinced Izzo to be the next coach.

Kevin Love's uncertain future likely impacted this decision because it left doubt in some candidates' minds.

The decision likely was made so the Wolves have answers and stability so they can move ahead with player off-season training plans, etc.

"With free agency, the draft and everything else, I think you need a coach in place," Wolves forward Robbie Hummel said. "I tjhink you had to make a decision pretty soon. There's no benefit in waiting...I didn't think Flip had interest to get back into coaching. But you look at his wins and his pedigree and it's not really surprising. If you can hire someone like that, it's a great hire."

Billups still is under a player's contract with Detroit so if Saunders is interested in adding him to his staff, it likely won't be until next month so the Wolves don't risk the same kind of league fine Phil Jackson got for talking about Derek Fisher as possible the next Knicks coach.

Saunders and owner Glen Taylor met earlier this week and agreed that Saunders as coach was the best option after he inquired with pals Izzo, Hoiberg and Jeff Van Gundy about their interest in the job and had interviewd Mitchell, Lionel Hollins, Scott Skiles and aggressively pursued Memphis coach Dave Joerger before Joerger decided to stay in Memphis.

"I'm a little surprised he's stepping back in and coaching, but it's a pleasant surprise," Brewer said. "He built the team so why not coach?"

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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