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Updated: June 5th, 2014 12:44pm
Zulgad: Flip Saunders' most important move still yet to come

Zulgad: Flip Saunders' most important move still yet to come

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Flip Saunders made a wise decision on Thursday when he settled on himself as the Timberwolves coach. Now, we're going to find out if he can make the right move as president of basketball operations.

While I've been advocating for Saunders to take over as coach, largely because none of the top candidates wanted the job, there is another crucial step in this process that could cause plenty of arguments between Saunders the prez and Saunders the coach.

Coach Saunders can't attempt to talk Prez Saunders into keeping star forward Kevin Love. Flip has to realize that he spent the past year trying to convince Love how much he was wanted and that it didn't work.

Love is going to opt out of his contract next offseason. Saunders has to accept that nothing is going to change that. Nothing.

The worst thing Saunders could do is have Love on his opening night roster next November. Not only would such a move have a negative impact on Love's trade value -- which is at its highest this offseason -- but it also would create an unnecessary distraction and could end up looking pathetic.

Disagree?

Coaches and players will tell you that the media makes too much of distractions and that they can be managed. That's a bunch of hogwash.

If Love is in a Wolves uniform next season, the national media will follow his every move and every player on the team will be continually asked about how they feel about his presence. That begins to wear on everyone.

As for the pathetic part, that stands to be a bigger problem.

Saunders has spent countless hours basically re-recruiting Love to Minnesota and assuring him that he's valued, despite the fact he didn't get the maximum contract when it could have been offered.

That didn't work.

So what is Flip going to do now? Wolves guard Ricky Rubio reportedly likes the fact that Saunders is going to coach the team. But that's because Rubio, as a point guard, will welcome Saunders' idea about how to run an offense.

What will be a huge turnoff to Rubio is if he has to watch Saunders spend months kowtowing to Love in the locker room, while everyone else stands by and plays second fiddle.

Rubio might respect Saunders' basketball acumen at that point but he sure won't respect his boss, and that also will be Saunders.

Saunders' most important job, when it comes to his players, actually will be managing Rubio. The point guard needs to become a better shooter but he still has the attributes to be the long-term face of this franchise and get himself the maximum deal.

Saunders needs to get the most out of Rubio and make sure he knows he's the most important member of the Wolves. Focusing on a guy who has one foot out the door would be counterproductive.

As for those who argue that a season with Love pouting wouldn't be bad because his departure would free up salary cap space, think again. Sure there might be more cap room available but who is going to want it? Luring top-level free agents to Minnesota will not be possible.

That's why Saunders the executive needs to get as much as he can for Love this offseason. And if Saunders the coach doesn't agree? Well, that will be too bad.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio
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