The Minnesota Timberwolves introduced Flip Saunders as their President of Basketball Operations on Friday, thus formally marking the beginning of the post-David Kahn era in Minnesota. Kahn was jettisoned after a disappointing tenure with the team, and now Saunders will assume all general manager duties as part of a five-year contract, with option years, that could be worth up to $9 million. The former NBA head coach is now also a minority owner of the franchise, per the agreement.
Saunders makes his homecoming to Minnesota with the move. He played and coached at the University of Minnesota, and he previously coached the Timberwolves during the Kevin Garnett years. He says he's ready to take the reins and try to turn a core of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love into a contender in the Western Conference. The goal is to make the playoffs and compete for a title (via Timberwolves.com):
"I'm excited to be back with the Timberwolves and want to thank Glen Taylor for this opportunity," Saunders said. "My goal is to help the Wolves achieve the success that we experienced during my first tenure with this organization. We have a strong nucleus in place and will look to add assets that will allow us to make the playoffs and eventually compete for an NBA championship."
The first order of business for the organization will be to convince Kevin Love that things are better without David Kahn, and that shouldn't be too difficult to do. Kahn delivered some additional parting shots for Love in his exit interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, saying Love lost the respect of his teammates by not returning from injury sooner. Yikes.
Saunders will no doubt work to patch things up and brush the Kahn stuff under the rug so the franchise can move forward with its most important player. Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus listened in on the introductory presser and came away with some thoughts on the new power structure of the front office:
[T]he question of how much power [Saunders] can really exercise independently is still up in the air, because....in the best news of the offseason so far....Rick Adelman will be back as coach. Rick is still the key here. Saunders made it sound like not a whole lot will change in the sense that Adelman will still have a big say in roster management and Taylor will still obviously have to approve cutting the checks. Except that the third spoke is no longer Kahn, which means a lot less irrational fixations and belligerence and a lot more discussion and (hopefully) competency. I expect RJ to be back, and Wolfson is saying Ryan Saunders will be in too, which gives the team two guys who are pretty good with the numbers side of things.
Saunders expressed a lot of optimism that he and Adelman can coexist. I'm still skeptical. Their history suggests that they'll want to take the team in very different directions. But I'm willing to let it play out. It's clear now that Adelman knew this was happening (no one was sure he had been told last week) and seems to be willing to work with Saunders just fine. And vice versa.
In fact, Saunders didn't exactly close the door on his coaching career when reporters asked him about it.
Flip in non-denial denial -- again -- on "Are you done coaching?" FS: "Right now Rick is our coach..." Better firm that up, Wolves.— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) May 3, 2013
Saunders previously coached the Timberwolves for more than nine full seasons and led the franchise to eight straight playoff berths and a 411-326 record. He is the organization's all-time winningest coach. He did say that he and Adelman are "a team moving forward."