With Flip Saunders Back at the Helm, What’s Next for the Minnesota Timberwolves?


Out with the old and in with the … old?

Last week, the Minnesota Timberwolves named Flip Saunders as their new head coach after Rick Adelman‘s retirement at the end of this season. Saunders, who coached the Wolves to all eight playoff appearances in franchise history, will be looking to bring this team back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Saunders hopes to grow his legacy as the only successful coach in team history, having won 411 games over his previous 10 year stint as coach of the team. He will take over a team of talented players who have yet to put it all together for an entire season.

The most talented player on this team, Kevin Love, is reportedly frustrated with the lack of success over his six-year career and is looking to move to a contender in the near future. Coach Saunders claims Love has no right to be frustrated, and could be attempting to coax Love into taking responsibility for his team.

Saunders is quoted as saying, “Why does any player have a right to be frustrated? You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Dec 04, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) prior to playing the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wachovia Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Sixers 105-88. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Love has been an outstanding player throughout his career with the Timberwolves and has made noticeable improvements every season, but he has not made a name for himself for being a clutch player, or one who brings out the best in his teammates.

These are qualities that turned Micheal Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and (I hate to say it) LeBron James into champions. Love will likely get his wish as it appears Saunders isn’t a long-term solution at head coach (he turns 60 this season) and could be acting as a bridge until the Timberwolves enter another “post-Kevin” era and look to rebuild once again.

Teams like the Bulls, Rockets, Lakers, Suns, Celtics and Knicks are all reportedly interested in trading for Love’s talents, but can any of them put together a package enticing enough for the Timberwolves to give up Love? It isn’t likely that the Timberwolves will get a fair trade for Love, but if they don’t trade him away, they will risk him leaving in free agency and the Timberwolves will get nothing in return.

Coach Saunders has his work cut out for him if he can’t get a fair price for Love before the season starts. Without Love, this team is below average, as it has been shown that you need all-stars to be competitive in this league. While there are a few players with all-star potential (Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic come to mind) none of them can seem to put it together for an entire season. Whether it is inconsistency, mental lapses, or injury concerns, each player has his own hurdles to overcome before any of them can get there.

While having Saunders as head coach is a solid choice, this team has always had problems attracting marquee free agents to the area because of the small market and the fact that it isn’t exactly warm and sunny in Minneapolis during the season. Being a non-contender year after year and having a stop-gap head coach approaching the age of 60 will make it less likely that the Wolves will obtain another all-star through free agency.

I look for the Wolves to trade Love and get the most they can get out of him (past history tells us it won’t be enough), then start all over with a Kevin Martin-focused offense featuring Ricky Rubio’s flashy behind the back, between the legs, over the moon passes, with Nikola Pekovic grabbing any and all misses, turning them into some easy put-backs.

Optimistically, the Wolves go 62-20 next season if everyone plays to their potential and stays healthy. Realistically, I can’t see the Wolves getting 40 wins again without Love. Here’s to wishful thinking and never-ending optimism. Go Wolves.