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NBA PM: Saunders Will Coach Timberwolves

Flip Saunders will come down from the front office to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves. How does that affect Kevin Love’s future? … 2014 NBA Finals by the numbers

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The Miami HEAT and San Antonio Spurs addressed the media on Wednesday. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker discussed last year’s classic NBA Finals.

Saunders Will Coach Timberwolves

After conducting the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coaching search in recent weeks, Flip Saunders has decided he will come down from the front office to coach the team himself.

The president of basketball operations and part owner confirmed this decision today. Executives and coaches around the NBA aren’t surprised by this news, as many people around the league had been predicting for quite awhile that Saunders would coach the team. As far back as last offseason, when he was brought in as an executive, the buzz around the league was that Saunders would return to the sideline whenever Rick Adelman decided he was done coaching.

Now, with Adelman retiring, Saunders will do his best to end the Timberwolves’ 10-year postseason drought. Saunders was the coach who last led Minnesota to the playoffs, when he took them to the Western Conference Finals in the 2003-04 season. Saunders is by far the most successful head coach in the franchise’s history.

The question is, how long will Saunders be the team’s head coach? Saunders has suggested that he is only be interested in coaching for one or two seasons, so some have suggested that this will be a short-term arrangement until he can make a splashy hire like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg (two coaches the Timberwolves pursued this summer, but ultimately missed out on), or prepare a coach-in-waiting who made need a year or two of experience before taking over the job.

Many top head coach candidates, such as Izzo and Hoiberg, were hesitant to take the Timberwolves job right now since there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the franchise at the moment with Kevin Love reportedly wanting out. By coaching for one or two years, Saunders can get the Wolves through this transition period and then bring in a new coach when things are more stable.

The Timberwolves nearly hired Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger in recent weeks, but he decided to stay in Memphis and inked an extension with the Grizzlies. The team also showed interest in Vinny Del Negro and Sam Mitchell among others.

Mitchell will reportedly join Saunders’ staff as an assistant coach, according to reports. Reports have also indicated that Saunders will also try to hire his former player Chauncey Billups onto his staff. It’s possible that Billups may be Saunders’ potential coach-in-waiting, in a scenario where Saunders would mentor the point guard and then hand him the reins to the team when he’s ready to be a head coach.

Many people around the NBA believe Billups would make an excellent head coach (myself included, as I touched on in yesterday’s NBA PM). In recent years, Billups has essentially been an assistant coach. He has trained draft prospects at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, “coached” Eric Bledsoe on the L.A. Clippers (the duo watched film, went over mistakes and spoke daily) and essentially emerged as a coach on the floor for the Detroit Pistons last season. Saunders clearly believes that Billups has head coach potential.

This is Saunders’ second stint coaching the Wolves, as he manned the sideline in Minnesota for 10 years from 1995 through 2005. Over the course of his 16-year coaching career, Saunders has won 638 games, with a .548 winning percentage.

Saunders coached the Timberwolves during Kevin Garnett’s run with the team, leading them to eight straight postseason appearances and the previously mentioned Western Conference Finals appearance (where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games). But after a 25-26 start the following season, Saunders was fired. He then took over as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons and led them to three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. His three-season stint with the Washington Wizards wasn’t nearly as successful, but that was a tough situation for any coach to be in.

So how does this news affect Love, who reportedly wants out of Minnesota and has demanded a trade? Although Love and Saunders seem to get along, this does not change Love’s trade request.

The All-NBA power forward has informed the organization that he will opt out in the summer of 2015 and leave as an unrestricted free agent, so they should trade him now. Love wants to play elsewhere and Saunders deciding to coach the team doesn’t change that.

This is one box that the Timberwolves are able to check off of their summer to-do list, but there’s no question that this will be a busy offseason in Minnesota.

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2014 NBA Finals: By The Numbers

The 2014 NBA Finals tip off tonight between the Miami HEAT and San Antonio Spurs. These are two of the most successful NBA franchises in recent years, with the HEAT looking to capture their third consecutive NBA title and the Spurs hoping to add their fifth championship since 1999.

Here are all of the numbers you need to know heading into this matchup:

  • 16 and 25 – First time in 16 years that the Finals features the same two teams squaring off in consecutive years (Bulls vs. Jazz – 1997, 1998). It also marks the first time in 25 years that two teams played a seven-game Finals and then repeated as conference champions the following season (Lakers vs. Pistons: 1988, 1989).
  • 4 – The HEAT are just the third franchise in NBA history to make four or more consecutive Finals appearances (Celtics – 1957-1966, 1984-1987; Lakers – 1982-1985).
  • 6 – San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich joins an exclusive club of coaches that have taken their teams to the Finals at least six times (Phil Jackson – 13, Red Auerbach – 11, Pat Riley – 9, John Kundla – 6).
  • 7 – The HEAT and Spurs have a combined seven NBA Finals MVP awards (LeBron James – 2012, 2013; Tony Parker – 2007; Dwyane Wade – 2006; Tim Duncan – 1999, 2003, 2005).
  • 113 – San Antonio’s Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan have combined for 113 postseason wins together – most in NBA history by a trio – after recently passing the Lakers’ Michael Cooper, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson (110).
  • 8 – Players on Finals rosters boast NBA D-League experience: San Antonio’s Aron Baynes, Austin Daye, Damion James, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Cory Joseph; and Miami’s Chris Andersen and Justin Hamilton.
  • 215 – The 2014 Finals will reach fans live in 215countries and territories in 47 languages on their televisions, computers, mobile phones and tablets.
  • 9 –  Nine international players will compete in the Finals: San Antonio’s Aron Baynes (Australia), Marco Belinelli (Italy), Boris Diaw (France), Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Cory Joseph (Canada), Patty Mills (Australia), Tony Parker (France), and Tiago Splitter (Brazil).
  • 7 – For the first time, the Finals logo appearing on courtside signage will be translated into seven languages (Chinese, French, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish).

Which Team is Poised to Make a Big Jump?


Basketball Insiders’ writers discuss which team could make the biggest improvement next season.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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