Reusse's Reality: Flip dives into Wolves' task
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Flip Saunders was offered a contract to coach the Gophers. He was in contact with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on the last weekend of March, as he was making a decision on the Gophers' job.
Saunders decided he would be more comfortable working for Taylor, his boss for a decade from 1995 to February 2005, than for two people he did not know well: Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague and his basketball specialist, Mike Ellis.
Flip's decision was not based on a lack of certainty in his ability to return successfully to the college game after a long absence. He was confident of having a big chance to land Tyus Jones of Apple Valley and Reid Travis of DeLaSalle for the fall of 2014.
There have been no second thoughts for Flip since he cast his lot with Taylor. The offer from Taylor included a chance for Saunders to buy a small piece of ownership.
Flip made a handsome amount of money in the later years of his run as coach of the Timberwolves, and then with Detroit and Washington. He's a smart guy who knows a lot of smart guys, and presumably a share of those dollars was invested astutely.
Whatever the number for Flip's buy-in, rumored to be from $5 million to $8 million, Taylor proudly announced Saunders as his new president for basketball operations and as a minor partner on May 3.
Saunders, 58, has brought four important ingredients to the task: energy, experience, personality and reality.
David Kahn was hired to get the Timberwolves' financial situation in order when it came to the salary cap. He did that for the most part, but never made a connection with the public.
Saunders brought that connection with him. The grumbling that went on in the 2004-05 season, as the Wolves faded from conference finalists to also-rans (which led to Flip's firing in February 2005), was long forgotten after eight losing seasons.
The Timberwolves loyalists (a smaller group than any of our four major pro teams) were pleased to have him back. And that has increased with the information that he's spent two weeks on the job mending the team's relationship with Kevin Love, and meeting with Derrick Williams to discuss untapped talent, and talking theories with Rick Adelman.
Saunders is out and about in the community. Last Saturday, he was among the frozen 1,100 people at the Gophers-Nebraska baseball game at Siebert Field. A daughter dates Billy Soule, a Gophers pitcher, and Flip makes it a point to attend games when possible.
We talked for a few minutes standing on a walkway. A number of fans stopped to shake hands and welcome back Flip.
"I still love this place [the U of M],'' Saunders said. "That's never going to change.''
Saunders already has changed the rhetoric from the Wolves' basketball operations. Kahn's spiel was that this turned into a lost season strictly because of injuries -- and, if healthy, the Wolves were a definite playoff team.
The reality is what Saunders said at his press conference two weeks ago: "We have a lot of work to do.''
I don't think the Wolves were a playoff team in the West, even if Love had played most of the schedule rather than 18 games, even if Ricky Rubio had been available at the start, and even if Chase Budinger hadn't missed a huge hunk of the schedule.
And, please, don't mention Brandon Roy: Of all Kahn's puzzling decisions, the idea of watching Roy make it through a few workouts and then signing him to a $5 million contract might have been the most ridiculous.
"We need more shooters,'' Saunders said. "You can't play with one (Budinger) or two (Luke Ridnour). A healthy Kevin Love will help there, but if we put shooters on the floor, you're going to see a much better Rubio.''
There are players to bring back in Nikola Pekovic, Budinger and perhaps Andrei Kirilenko. There are two first-round draft choices to be used -- and if that's done wisely, it will be a change of form for this franchise. And, there are decisions to be made on whether Williams fits here, on whether Alexey Shved is an NBA player. on whether to move a guy like J.J. Barea or keep him around.
There's also the planned remodeling of Target Center, which is very much a second-rate arena in comparison to what the Wild has to offer to ticket buyers in St. Paul.
The number being tossed about is $100 million. "You can't do much for $100 million in the arena game these days,'' I said to Flip.
"No, no, it's going to be nice,'' he said. "They are going to do quite a bit. It's going to be a lot better for us. And if we get a practice facility ...''
"Nothing,'' he said. "I didn't say anything.''