Sandell: Flip says he's the 'right guy' for Wolves, but for how long?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- When it came down to a final decision in a six-week coaching search, Flip Saunders decided he was best option for the Minnesota Timberwolves in their current form, Wolves owner Glen Taylor announced Friday with Saunders at his side.
Saunders spent the nearly 30-minute press conference giving his justification for why returning to the post he held a decade ago was the correct call.
Saunders insisted this wasn't what he had in mind when he first set out to find a coach, though the idea was always on the table in his talks with Taylor and general manager Milt Newton.
Yet here he was, back once again as a head coach, albeit with significant more power this time around. In Saunders' eyes, the time was "right."
"I've always believed this: with every team, there's a right coach at the right time in the right situation, and I believe that where we're at right now, that I'm the right guy for this team in situation," Saunders explained.
But for how long will he be the "right guy"?
From the minute word trickled out Thursday that Saunders would coach again, it has felt like a temporary solution. That theme carried over into Friday. Saunders didn't unveil a succession plan or what the long-term future could hold for the Wolves. Instead, he kept his focus on the team's current state.
However, as Taylor's intriguing set of comments reinforced, it appears Saunders is set up to be a short-term fix, a way to establish a stable foundation for whoever is tapped next to take the reins as head coach.
While he expressed his full support for giving Saunders the go-ahead to juggle a dual-role, Taylor admitted it wasn't what he originally wanted to see happen.
"We had always talked about the possibility of Flip being head coach," Taylor said. "That isn't something we just brought up last week. We knew that was a possibility. But it was always my preference if we could find another person to take on that leadership role that I'd like to have Flip concentrate as president of basketball operations."
Taylor repeated that thought later on, saying he has told Saunders his "preferred way" is to have the two jobs be filled separately and would like to see the Wolves eventually get back to that formula.
The question is at what point will Saunders decide he has done enough to make a seamless transition to another coach.
It could be a year. It could be two, maybe more. Saunders strategically kept himself from being pigeonholed by a timetable. The plan, he said, is to sit down with Taylor after next season and reevaluate the team and its situation.
At that point, there's the possibility the Wolves reopen their search to pursue a candidate that may have turned them down or not worked out when approached about the job in the last few weeks.
Saunders' successor could also be a member of his assistant staff next season. Saunders said he wouldn't hire anyone with the distinction that he was the coach-in-waiting. But whether he wants to say it publicly or not, there is still a high possibility the Wolves bring in a coach that could potentially be groomed take over.
Saunders exuded enthusiasm on Friday, but it came across almost like a campaign speech, trying hard to convince the public to buy into his vision.
For many, Saunders' move back to coaching was seen as inevitable, which has resulted in a mild reaction from much of the fan base.
Whether Saunders thinks so or not, the Wolves come across as a team in limbo as Kevin Love's likely departure looms over the franchise. That is to be expected given the situation, especially with a team that is in a 10-year playoff drought.
Saunders has a chance to sway excitement in his favor. Regardless of how long he remains head coach, his tenure will be defined by how he handles the eventual transition to the next coach.
If Saunders's decision to hold off on bringing in an outside candidate this year can ultimately lead to a better option down the road, his foresight would be sure to garner him a bounty of praise. It could also backfire on him. Saunders is taking a major gamble. He doesn't have much of a scapegoat to rely on if things go wrong.
As with any coaching change, it's best to take the wait-and-see approach. Saunders has much to prove in the next year, starting largely with how the Wolves decide to manage the Love situation.