Love more likely to go, not less, with Flip’s return to Wolves bench


VIDEO: The Starters discuss possible future destinations for Kevin Love

SAN ANTONIO – Been there, done that.

No, that’s not shorthand for the decision by Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to add head coaching duties to his fancy executive position, a move that had been anticipated for months (including here), was reported by multiple outlets Thursday and will be made official at a news conference Friday. Saunders, 59, has been there, done that; he is the winningest coach in Wolves history (411), leading the team to its only eight playoff appearances in a 10-plus season stint on the sidelines.

But the been there, done that in play now is the sentiment among some that Saunders will be dedicating 2014-15 to a season-long smoochfest aimed at convincing All-NBA forward Kevin Love to stay with the Wolves long-term. Love is expected to opt out of his contract next summer, with speculation already rampant as to his future whereabouts: Golden State, Chicago, Houston, Boston, the L.A. Lakers or some destination still to emerge. Notice that Minnesota is not on that list.

That’s the mistake in interpreting Saunders’ grab at the coaching reins. He and the organization already spent most of 2013-14 catering and currying favor with Love. To no apparent avail.

With Love’s favorite Rick Adelman around for his final season, the Wolves featured the 6-foot-10 power forward him prominently on the court and off. Love was his usual double-double self, a possible MVP candidate if only Minnesota had managed to a) finish .500 and b) qualify for the postseason. Saunders talked up Love’s game, value and leadership all season and consulted the player on all sorts of team issues, including suggestions for its new downtown practice facility across from Target Center.

Only it didn’t work. In fact, near the end of the regular season, as the Wolves were eliminated practically first and mathematically second from the playoffs, Love withdrew and unplugged. Saunders and others within the team, several sources have said, were disappointed. Over the past two months, they became convinced that Love intended to leave – the free look Love has next summer was a booby prize from former Wolves president David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor when they declined to give him a fifth year in his contract extension.

So now Saunders is stepping in as coach, Wolves insiders say, to manage the return and impact of whatever package of players and draft picks Saunders the executive can get from an NBA trading partner.

The time for winning over Love, in other words, has passed. It’s time now to cash him in, however reluctantly, and move on.

Some in the team’s increasingly cynical fan base – impatient over a playoff drought that dates back to 2004 – see Saunders’ move as driven by ego and emboldened by Detroit’s hire of Stan Van Gundy in a double role and Clippers coach Doc Rivers adding executive powers to his sideline work. After all, the former University of Minnesota point guard was a career coach for most of four decades, with NBA stints most recently in Detroit and Washington, before being hired back by Taylor last spring in his front-office capacity.

But Saunders did conduct a proper search for Adelman’s replacement since the regular season ended and even settled on Memphis’ Dave Joerger as his choice – until Joerger got reeled back in by Grizzlies owner Robert Pera despite apparent internal strife within that organization.

Saunders was said not to favor veteran NBA possibilities such as George Karl or Lionel Hollins, partly because he was wary of butting heads with a strong coaching personality. College prospects Tom Izzo of Michigan State (a close Saunders friend), Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State and Billy Donovan of Florida had reservations of their own, the coaches uncertain of the Wolves’ direction (Love? No Love?).

As candidates came and went, it became increasingly clear that the Wolves needed a transitory coach for their transitory situation. Reports online Thursday had Saunders assembling a staff that could include his eventual replacement, with Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, a coaching star on the international scene, and former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell (another back-to-the-future former Wolf) mentioned prominently. There was also talk, however, of Saunders’ son Ryan, now on Randy Wittman‘s staff in Washington, reuniting with his pop in the Twin Cities.

It’s possible that Saunders the coach might find it too tempting to lose a player of Love’s caliber – there aren’t many like him in the first place – and will shift back into selling the scoring-and-rebounding star on a future in Minnesota. More likely, though, Saunders the executive will focus his salesmanship on the suitors for Love, and get the best package possible sooner rather than later.

15 Comments

  1. realone says:

    love need to be in the same team that carmelo anthony and both will win their first ring and the best team to make that possible is L.A. sow go to the lakers and make championships possible but the only conditions are that they have to be humble and received few money like lebron bosh and wade made to be toguether

  2. Blazer Maniac says:

    If Love wants out, trade him to Portland for LaMarcus. That way Love can play in his Hometown, and the Timberwolves will have less of a prima donna to deal with. lol

  3. drayden says:

    This isnèt the nba of old where every team had a star. the instalment of saunders merely indicates a continuing trend of teams tanking. Love is a pick and roll player. put him next to kobe in L.A. and he wont get even 3 double doubles, so thatès not the answer either. he can go to chicago and replace booze. thats his best chance for immediate success.

  4. pej says:

    Love should go to Spur to lead the next generation San Antonio younger players the moment Duncan, Parker and Manu retired. For a while he could have NBA ring playing with Spur’s big three. San Antonio is hard to beat with Love playing with Duncan, Parker, Manu, Leonard and Green.

  5. Kobe-Carmelo-Love says:

    We are waiting for you here at LA.. Carmelo is here and just waiting for you Kevin.. Let us get that 17th trophy and 18 and so on…

  6. OldCelt says:

    Don’t know about others, but all this ‘I wanna go somewhere else’ attitude is really making me sick. Of course you never know the true story and what really happens behind the curtains, but if the organization is doing all it can to keep you I think you should exhibit some sort of loyalty. You want to be one of the greats? Learn from them. How many years KG spent in there without making into playoffs or being eliminated in the first round? How many bad years Pierce had on poor Celtics teams? Tayshon Prince in Detroit? Danny Granger in Iniana? Did they want to leave? Nope.

    On the other hand, whining and forcing your way out rarely pays off. Look at Melo. Look at Howard. If you think yourself a great player prove it. Work with the poor team and make others around you better. Anyone can throw 40 shots per game and score 25 points, or grab 12 boards each night when nobody else really bothers with rebounds. Impressive stats do not always translate into impressive players.

  7. Love to stay in Minny become legend says:

    Even when Lebron left Cleveland ended up getting picks from Miami for him so there should be no rush in trading Love.
    Love wants to become a legend the road to the playoffs looks much easier in the east, but if he really wants to become a legend he will take this mn team to the finals . They would have been in the playoffs this year if RA had coached to win and not to lose JJ@ pg instead of Rubio come on your taking the ball out of loves hands at the end of games by doing that.

    They have a good core team if they stay together and if they start GDieng at center their defense is improved and they can bring pek in off the bench to add inside scoring

    I think with Flip coaching they will make playoffs with or without Love but think if Love stays they will have shot to go further into playoffs

  8. Marcus says:

    I’m always a fan of MN. Love aint KG. He has skills, sure but Love can’t carry a team. He’s just a stat machine. He’s a prima donna. He can’t lead. Not a great locker room guy.

    Trade Love for Noah.
    Or..
    Love-Martin for Harden-Parsons.

  9. Nick says:

    @ Matthew Ricky Rubio is not a constant offensive threat, he was one of the worst in scoring for his position. Unfortunately the wolves did not trade him when they could of gathered 3 first round picks for his contract. In terms of K Love, despite how much the media will blow up Flip coming back as increasing K Love’s percentage to stay, this is media and politics, K Love will go regardless. Pek is a big man who was hurt and hasn’t been reported on since. The Wolves need to become a better organization top down in order to have any hope at a future, I’m sorry to say this but that means another over haul of its entire roster, nobody is safe.

  10. NBAfan says:

    I’m a big Kevin Love fan. I think he needs to play in a team with a prominent and smart PG with a system that can make full use of his skills. I’m thinking Clippers actually….Replace Blake with Love and see the CP3 and the Clips finally make it to the finals….

  11. Kimmy says:

    I think Love should go to Houston or GSW. Chicago is suspect. Derrick Rose is no Russell Westbrook. He’s been really timid around his injury. I just don’t know about him.

  12. Slightly Biased Bulls Fan says:

    Melo or love will come to the Bulls. But only one will come to the Bulls and if neither comes the the bulls will be effed. Go Bulls.

  13. Matthew says:

    I believe for Kevin love to be in a position to win a championship he needs to be on a championship winning team or a team with potential to win a championship. Realistically speaking the Timberwolves aren’t a championship team or have the potential to win with the players they have. Rubio and Love are there 2 main consistent offensive guys and Pekovic is there lonely rebounder in the middle. For Kevin love to get a championship in his career I believe he needs to be at either in the Rockets, Heat or Spurs, maybe Warriors if they could find a place for him with Bogut and Lee already filling up the 4 and 5

    • Andre says:

      If he goes to Houston, he and Dwight would be insanely hard to stop inside. Not to mention the offensive rebounds this team would rack up per game.