For the sixth time since the Flip Saunders era, the Minnesota Timberwolves will be searching for a new head coach after Rick Adelman announced his retirement on April 21. While there is a bitter taste in the mouths of Wolves fans as to how Adelman’s stint ended, he was able to get the team back to relevancy.
That might not mean Saunders, who is now the president of basketball operations, will have an easy time selling his vacancy. The Timberwolves are in limbo with limited resources to make a big move and the dark cloud hanging over the franchise with Kevin Love one year away from likely exercising his opt-out clause.
Saunders must find a coach that can not only get Minnesota over the hump, but one that will also satisfy Love in a last-ditch effort to keep their superstar. As the race begins on what could be a drawn out process, there are several names to consider.
If there is a fan favorite in this race, it’s probably Hoiberg. As the head coach at Iowa State, he’s guided the program from Big XII doormat to conference champions a season ago while continuing his legacy in a city that refers to him as “The Mayor.”
It would be hard to believe that Hoiberg would want to leave Ames, but there’s always factors to consider with a collegiate coach. He was a former guard for the Timberwolves for two seasons (2003-05) and worked in the front office for several years (2006-10) before accepting the head coaching job for his alma mater.
Those ties paired with the rigors of recruiting could be enough to convince Hoiberg to jump to the NBA, but wouldn’t he want to search for a better situation to succeed?
The 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year was shockingly dismissed a season ago and has spent this winter in a cushy studio chair at ESPN. As with any studio analyst, Karl has the name that appeals to the eye, but again … would this be the right situation for a return?
Such a hire would be repeating the same theory that the Timberwolves had used when they hired Adelman. As a proven winner in the NBA, he’d have the experience that would get Minnesota’s young nucleus to listen and improve. Seeing how the Denver Nuggets were the third-youngest roster when Karl won his only Coach of the Year award, this hire could turn out and fulfill the destiny many had imagined with his predecessor.
Continuing with the theme of college coaches, ESPN’s Marc Stien reported that the Timberwolves have been looking at Florida head coach Billy Donovan. The two-time national champion once flirted with the NBA in 2007 when he agreed to become the head coach of the Orlando Magic, but decided to back out at the last minute and was replaced by Stan Van Gundy.
Such a move would be a risky one, but maybe Donovan believes that he’s done all that he could possibly do with the Gators and wants to take on a new challenge similar to the one Celtics coach Brad Stevens took when he left Butler. A move like this would be shocking, but more realistic after the Stevens hire a season ago.
Out of the list of potential coaches, Hollins might be the one that’s the most beneficial for the Timberwolves due to his defensive track record. In four seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, he led the team from being ranked 24th in points per game (104 PPG in 2009-10) to first (89.3 in 2012-13) and led them to the Western Conference finals in 2013.
By the time he left Memphis, he instilled an aggressive and tough nature on the defensive end that could help the Timberwolves pull out some close games they couldn’t win a season ago.
I would personally describe this name as having a snowball’s chance in hell. Izzo has built an empire at Michigan State that seems to reload every season. Like the other collegiate names on this list, it’s not just the jump to the NBA, but where they’re making the jump to.
Remember, Izzo turned down a chance to coach LeBron James back in 2010. Even though he has a close relationship with Saunders, there’s little hope that he’ll make the jump to coach a team that might not have Kevin Love one year from now.
Depending on how Saunders feels, he could be the leader in the clubhouse. He hasn’t coached since 2012 with the Washington Wizards, but he likely knows the coach he wants to take the helm. If the situation isn’t good enough for any of his acquaintances to bite, he might have to take the bait himself and hope for the best.
It would be a giant twist of irony considering how Saunders was fired by Kevin McHale back in the 2004-05 season in order for McHale to take the bench in an effort to save his job. Ten years later, it’s possible that Saunders might have to make the same transition from the front office to the bench in order to keep the one man that could save his job.
Chris Schad is a Minnesota Timberwolves staff contributor for Hoops Habit. His work has also been featured on Pro Football Spot and Cold Omaha. You can follow Chris on Twitter @crishad.