Flip Saunders will not return to coach the Timberwolves this season, owner Glen Taylor told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday in the latest sad update as Saunders battles cancer.
Saunders, also the president of basketball operations, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June. He has been hospitalized since early September.
Asked if he expected Saunders to return, Taylor paused, then said: “Not this year. I just think his illness, I mean, it’s serious. At this point, if he came back I still think he’d have a hard time to recover all his energy and all that because he has been in the hospital for a long time.”
Doctors treating Saunders called his disease treatable and curable when the Wolves announced his diagnosis in mid-August. At the time, the team said Saunders intended to continue working while he received chemotherapy treatments, which he had completed by the time he was hospitalized in September.
Taylor called the developments “an unbelievable situation we hadn’t anticipated going into this season” and said he talked with the team’s players about Saunders’ condition and his influence on all of them as coach, chief basketball decision-maker and franchise part-owner during a team dinner at Taylor’s Mankato home earlier this month.
“I don’t care how old you get or how experienced you get, these friendships that are in your lives are so important,” said Taylor, who has employed Saunders two different times and known him since shortly after he bought the team in 1994. “They do affect your heart and your mind on a daily basis.”
Taylor said he and Saunders had talked enough throughout the summer that there has been a “blueprint” to follow that includes such things as buying out young forward Anthony Bennett’s contract before training camp began.
The Timberwolves had previously named Sam Mitchell the interim coach and expanded the duties of general manager Milt Newton in an attempt to fill the void in Saunders’ absence.