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Updated: April 17th, 2014 4:45pm
Sandell: If Rick Adelman retires, these 5 candidates would intrigue

Sandell: If Rick Adelman retires, these 5 candidates would intrigue

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by Nate Sandell

It's widely believed Rick Adelman coached his final game Wednesday. His third season with the Wolves ended in disappointment, as it's the 10th consecutive season without a playoff appearance.

The common line of thinking is that Adelman, who has a mutual fourth year option in his contract, will choose to retire after a 23-year NBA head coaching career.

If the Adelman era does in fact come to a close, the search for the Wolves' next coach is about to heat up. Expectations will be high for whomever president of basketball operation Flip Saunders pegs to fill the vacancy. After a mediocre season in which the Wolves cemented their identity as a .500 team, the pressure is on to find a solution that can lead to the playoffs by this time next year.

So who will the Wolves bring in as the franchise's next coach? Here's a list of five names that could be in the mix in the coming weeks.

Flip Saunders

Age: 59

Head coaching experience: 16 years (Minnesota, 1995-2005; Detroit, 2005-08; Washington, 2009-12)

Let's start with one of the most commonly speculated options. Ever since he returned to Wolves last summer for a front office job, Saunders' aspirations to coach again at some point have been widely discussed by media and fans alike. Whenever asked about the matter, Saunders has always been coy with his answers, expressing his contentment with his role as president, but never putting the idea fully out of mind that he could once again be a head coach.

Owner Glen Taylor recently dismissed the idea of Saunders returning to the coaching post he held for 10 years. In early April, Taylor told WCCO-AM's Chad Hartman on-air that if Saunders came to him about coaching he would "tell him to look for another alternative." But even with that statement, there's a chance Taylor could be persuaded otherwise under the right circumstances.

It would be an enormous task for Saunders if he was to inherit the head coaching job on top of his other responsibilities. The question is: would it be the right move for longevity of the franchise if Saunders attempted to balance the two roles? Or is best to seek a fresh face for the job?


Fred Hoiberg

Age: 41

Head coaching experience: None at the NBA level. Is coming off his fourth season at Iowa State.

As a former Wolves player and executive, and now successful college coach, Hoiberg has been a go-to name in the rumor mill. Hoiberg's ties to the Wolves are strengthened by his friendship with Saunders, who coached Hoiberg in his final two seasons of his 10-year pro career.

Known as the "Mayor" in his hometown of Ames, Hoiberg has rejuvenated the Iowa State basketball program in four years since he was hired, despite zero previous coaching experience.  Under Hoiberg, the Cyclones have made it to the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons, most recently winning the Big 12 tournament championship before advancing to the Sweet 16.

The buzz around Hoiberg-to-the-Wolves might be wishful thinking.  Many consider Hoiberg the most "NBA-ready" college coach, but with such a promising situation in place at Iowa State, the odds of him making the leap this season appear low. Last week, Iowa State gave Hoiberg a $600,000 raise on the 10-year contract he signed last season, making him one of the top-20 highest paid college coaches at $2.6 million a year.

At an early stage in an already impressive coaching career, Hoiberg has the luxury of knowing that an NBA job in all likelihood will still be there for him if he wants it even three or four years down the road. Despite the unlikelihood, it's safe to bet the Wolves will at least attempt to lure Hoiberg to Minnesota.


Tom Izzo

Age: 59

Head coaching experience: None in the NBA. He is coming off his 19th season at Michigan State.

Unlike Hoiberg, if Izzo has any desire to be an NBA coach, this may be the now-or-never juncture in his career. Izzo, who has been at Michigan State as both an assistant and head coach for more than three decades, has flirted with the move to the pro ranks before. In 2010, the Cavaliers pursued him, but he eventually turned down the offer.

Minnesota would make sense as a destination if Izzo desired to move. Saunders and Izzo are close friends. Saunders made a trip to New York City last month for the NCAA's East regional, where both Izzo and Hoiberg's teams were playing. Reports have also surfaced that Detroit intends to go after Izzo this summer - a job that would keep in his home state

Still, Izzo's long-standing roots at Michigan State help make it appear to be a considerable long shot that he would move on to the NBA.


George Karl

Age: 62

Head coaching experience: 25 years (Cleveland, 1984-86; Golden State, 1986-88; Seattle, 1991-1998; Milwaukee, 1998-03; Denver, 2004-13).

Realistic or not, Karl is the best available veteran option the Wolves could ask for. His experience and name-recognition would be an easy sell for players. Similar to Adelman in his longevity, Karl is one of eight coaches in the 1,000-win club.

In his last season of coaching, Karl won 2013 NBA Coach of the Year honors after leading a youthful Denver squad to a franchise-record 57 games. Then he was fired, following a first round playoff exit. Karl, whose teams have made the playoffs in 22 of his 25 years as a head coach, has spent the last year as an NBA analyst for ESPN.

At 62 years old, does Karl still have the desire to get back into coaching? That remains to be seen. But even if he did, Minnesota would be a tough sell. Kevin Love's uncertain future with the Wolves likely is enough to make any coach hesitant about taking the job. In Karl's position, he may believe he could do better than Minnesota if he returns to the NBA.


Tom Thibodeau

Age: 56

Head coaching experience: 4 years (Chicago, 2010-14).

This one is admittedly a stretch, but as 1500 ESPN contributor Darren Wolfson has speculated numerous times in the past few weeks, don't completely rule out Thibodeau as a possibility. Thibodeau has found success in Chicago, but in the past two years his relationship with Bulls general manager Gar Foreman has reportedly been a strained one, as the two have butted heads over various roster moves. Might a change in scenery be in the best interest for both parties?

A move to obtain Thibodeau would require a lot of maneuvering. The Wolves would likely have to trade for his rights. The precedent for such a trade was set last season when the Clippers dealt their 2015 first round pick to the Celtics in exchange for Doc Rivers, who had three years left on his contract. Minnesota would have to provide similar compensation. Thibodeau has two years left on his deal with the Bulls. However, Thibodeau and Chicago front office personnel have repeatedly said they have no intentions of a coaching change.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell
In this story: Kevin Love