Saunders Takes Over Familiar Franchise With Hopes Of Achieving Familiar Results

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Saunders Takes Over Familiar Franchise With Hopes Of Achieving Familiar Results

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Flip Saunders spent much of Friday morning and afternoon walking the same Target Center hallways and occupying the same meeting rooms he once frequented for nearly a decade. He joked with members of the media who first covered him as a skinny guard at the University of Minnesota 40 years ago, and he reminisced about his first stint with the Timberwolves organization that ended abruptly in 2005.

In many ways, he feels at home. Like he never left.

In some ways, he never did.

Now, as Saunders was formally introduced as the Wolves’ President of Basketball Operations on Friday, taking over the personnel side as an executive instead of patrolling the sidelines like he once did en route to a team-record 411 wins, you get the feeling that being back here with this organization in Minnesota is just the right fit.

“Coming back here and seeing familiar faces makes it easier,” Saunders said. “Is it a homecoming? I don’t know. My house has always been here, so I never really left. I still go get coffee at the same place and do all those other things the same, so that hasn’t changed.”

Same city. Same team. New role. Now, the task is trying to emulate the success he had the first time around.

The Timberwolves welcome Saunders back as the team hopes to turn a corner it once did successfully when he first took over as head coach in 1995. Back then, the Wolves had a roster that, over a two-year span, would be built around future Hall of Fame power forward Kevin Garnett and talented point guard Stephon Marbury. The end result was the franchise jumping from never winning more than 30 games in a season to eight consecutive playoff appearances, four 50-win seasons and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.

He will also join in as a limited partner in the team’s ownership group.

The team Saunders inherits as President of Basketball Operations has an All-Star in power forward Kevin Love, a talented playmaker in point guard Ricky Rubio, a collection of talented players who fill specific roles and a coach in Rick Adelman who makes everything tick.

Saunders noted between himself and Adelman, the two have combined for more than 1,600 wins in the league. He initially spoke with Adelman by phone for about an hour and a half about taking over the basketball operations department, and Saunders said the two share similar philosophies on basketball—equal parts ball movement and player movement, high assists and low turnovers.

As of right now, Saunders and owner Glen Taylor said they have every indication Adelman will be back with the team next year. Adelman’s wife went through a health scare in January, and he entered the offseason with the intention of making sure she was in good health before committing to return.

If he does, Saunders and Taylor agreed the three of them will work together to ensure all voices are heard on decision that impact the team’s personnel.

“Anyone who has worked with Glen with any of his businesses has to understand that Glen is very much an information gatherer,” Saunders said. “He wants information from all parties and wants information—good, bad and different. From that, as a group you make a collective decision. I think that will continue to be how we operate.”

That’s going to be an important concept between these two parties, as the Wolves continue to work toward their first postseason berth since Saunders’ first tenure with the club.

Those philosophies Adelman and Saunders share in principle also seem to line up with some of the Wolves’ biggest needs heading into this offseason.

Minnesota struggled mightily from 3-point range and as a jumpshooting team last year. They were 24th in the league with a 43.9 shooting percentage from the field, and they were last in the league from behind the arc—finishing the year at with a 30.5 percent efficiency.

Saunders said the NBA has evolved into a jumpshooting league, and that’s going to be an important issue to address. Being able to level out the roster and add depth in areas like shooting guard should also only accentuate the play of Rubio, who continues to become one of the league’s flashiest passers.

And with Love primed to return from an injury-plagued season, the Wolves do have a players who Saunders calls the most unique player in the NBA.

“There’s nobody who has the ability he has to rebound at the level he does and then go and play perimeter as a stretch 4,” Saunders said. “And if you look at the playoffs right now, almost every team that has success, they’re having success from the 3-point line. It’s a common thread. When you have a 4 that can shoot the ball like he can, he becomes a very potent player.”

After the media circuit slows down, Saunders’ next move is to talk with each player over the phone and let them get acquainted with him and what he’s trying to achieve with this team. It’s the same organization, led by the same owner and playing in the same arena, but the personnel on this team’s roster is all new to him—and vice versa.

Saunders’ second era with the Wolves is about to begin. Familiarity aside, this is a new group, a new role and new obstacles. But the same pressures and goals remain.

He’s fully aware of the task ahead.

“There's no question that there's a lot of work ahead with this team,” Saunders said. “And what I mean by that is that when a team has been to the lottery for eight straight years and won 31 games, you have work to do. So we've got to roll up our sleeves and do that, but that's what Minnesota people do.”

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