Sandell: Love's hazy future makes Wolves coaching job a tough sell
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Rick Adelman era is over.
Now, as the search for Adelman's successor in Minnesota begins, president of basketball operations Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves are headed into a critical period in determining the direction of the franchise, both in the short-term and long-term.
However, Saunders is facing a tough sell in his bid to bring in a coach who will be tasked with breaking through the franchise's long run of mediocre and sub-standard performance, built up during a now 10-year playoff drought.
The Wolves stand at precarious juncture. Despite their obvious shortcomings last season, the Wolves showed they have plenty of potential. There are several valuable pieces already in place that with the right series of offseason tweaks could finally get the Wolves into legitimate postseason contention next season.
But the vast uncertainty surrounding All-Star forward Kevin Love's future in Minnesota is a burden any coach who takes the Wolves job will have to willingly accept.
The potential loss of a franchise player like Love is an immediate red flag for prospective candidates, especially those who could have the type of established coaching success that Saunders appears to be looking for.
Love has the option to opt out of his contract at the end of next season. For more than a year, a constant stream of hype and rumors have followed Love in regards to where he may be headed if he hits the free agent market. Whether or not you consider it wishful thinking, Saunders and the Wolves feel they still have a strong chance at convincing Love to stay in Minnesota.
Bringing in a coach who can work well with the Wolves' star forward and has the potential to quickly spur overall success is a crucial step in any attempt to sway Love.
Adelman, who officially announced his retirement Monday, admitted stepping away at this point, as opposed to a year from now, would give the Wolves their best chance in their bid to re-sign Love.
"I think it's best for the organization to have somebody else coaching the team, give them a year to see what they can do," Adelman said. "I think that is a much more positive situation for the organization. I feel strongly about that."
Don't take any of this to mean that Saunders will be looking to Love to help in the search. Saunders bristled slightly when asked Monday if he would be getting input from Love on the next coach.
"No, listen, I had KG (Kevin Garnett) for 10 years, if I took the players that KG wanted all the time, the roster would have looked a lot different," Saunders said. "I believe what you do is talk with them about characteristics they may want, but you never put a player, any player, doesn't matter who he is, in that light where they're making a decision. It's not fair to him. It's not fair to the person you bring in."
While Love's long-term status is the elephant in the room, the Wolves are still in a position where they could be tuned-up enough for a playoff run next season. There are plenty of roster decisions and moves to be made in the months ahead, especially when it comes to the Wolves' bench (Dante Cunningham, Alexey Shved, J.J. Barea, Robbie Hummel, etc.)
Progress was made last season. The Wolves posted a 40-win season -- their best campaign since 2004-05 (44 wins) and Love dazzled with the best season of his six-year career. But it was still not enough. Though it showed in impressive flashes, Minnesota could never find the consistent production it needed to keep pace in the playoff push. As a result, the disappointment from a season of unrealized expectations remains ripe.
"Frankly, we weren't good enough," Adelman said. "We lost too many games that people thought we should have won but didn't. I just look at it realistically. I saw some growth in players. I saw some positives, but was it enough to win 49 games to get into the playoffs? We weren't a 49-win team."
If Saunders can pull off a few upgrades to the supporting cast around Love with the right person at the helm, it could be enough to get to the 48-plus wins it may take to win a playoff spot next year in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Adelman reiterated that he believes the Wolves are close to being a contender.
"I think there are additions that need to be made," Adelman said. "Is this a 40-win team that could jump to 10 more wins if you have the right people? Yeah I think that can happen."
Saunders must find a coach who can strike the right balance to make the impending offseason tweaks work, while also providing a stabilizing presence that can satisfy Love. The window to do so will be small, with the pressure on the Wolves to prevent a potentially crippling step backwards next season. Whoever Saunders brings in, the task of keeping the Wolves on an upward trend will be a difficult one.