With Rick Adelman officially retiring on Tuesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves have an opening for their head coaching position. Just like most NBA openings, college coaches from power programs have had their names swirling around as potential candidates for the job. A few questions arise from this, including which one would fit the best and is a college coach the best option for the Timberwolves?
First we look at the team the new coach will be stepping in to control. With most all head coach vacancies, teams would be better off picking their new coach before the NBA Draft in June. That gives teams two months to find the right man for the job so they have control over their team’s draft picks.
Minnesota has one unrestricted free agent in Dante Cunningham and two restricted free agents in Robbie Hummel and Othyus Jeffers. Cunningham would be the top priority of these three in free agency, but losing him wouldn’t be a huge letdown. Obviously everybody is focusing on Kevin Love‘s impending free agency, but he’s still under contract for the 2014-15 season and has a player option for the 2015-16 season. While he’s still going to be in a Timberwolves uniform next season barring a trade, it’s in Minnesota’s best interest to work on bringing in more talent to put around him.
The problem with that is Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of cap space to play with. The salary cap for this season was set at $58.7 million with the luxury tax being set at $71.7 million. Minnesota has $66.4 million on the books for next season. Next year’s cap is projected to be set at around $63 million, so not a lot of money to spend either way. Without a lot of room to operate in free agency, so drafting well and, maybe, trading will be in the Timberwolves’ best interest.
Now we can look at the coaching options Minnesota has. Mike Woodson has been let go by the New York Knicks, but that’s not a bag the Wolves should stick their hand into. No, Minnesota hasn’t been linked to former NBA coaches. Instead they’ve been linked to three top college coaches in Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Florida’s Billy Donovan. Let’s look at the candidates.
Izzo has built Michigan State into one of college basketball’s elite programs. Taking over the Spartans in 1995, Izzo has led teams to two national championship appearances (winning one in 2000), nine Final Four appearances, 16 straight NCAA tournament appearances and seven Big Ten championships. While maintaining his success, Izzo hasn’t had the greatest players going to MSU coming out of high school. In his time with the Spartans, Izzo has had only 13 high school All-Americans play for him–a respectable number, but for a power program it’s rather low. Izzo thrives on developing players to become better which leads his teams to have great players once they are done.
Tom Izzo is one of the most respected coaches in the country and has been linked to NBA jobs with the Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons this offseason already. Izzo has a great thing going and a long tenure with Michigan State that would be hard to leave at this juncture. However, his lengthy tenure may be in favor of Minnesota and any attempt to lure him away. Since he’s had time to do the college coaching thing, he may be more inclined to decide it’s time to take his talents to the NBA.
Probably the hottest name in the college coaching circuits, Fred Hoiberg has helped turn Iowa State around through unconventional ways. By using transfers from other schools rather than relying on loaded freshmen recruits, Hoiberg has become a master of taking talented players that ran into trouble with their former teams, putting them together and having them play as cohesive units. The work he’s done with troubled yet talented players such as Royce White and DeAndre Kane is remarkable, making both of them All-America selections in one season on the floor.
Working in Hoiberg’s favor is his NBA playing career, which ended in 2005 with the Timberwolves, playing for Flip Saunders, who now runs the show in Minnesota. Although Saunders as team president has already ruled out Hoiberg as a candidate, citing his recently signed contract with the Cyclones, anything is possible. The fit is there but now is likely not the time for Hoiberg to leave. Hoiberg signed a 10-year, $20 million extension with Iowa State last season as they tried to lock him up for a long time. It’s probably premature to have Hoiberg in the NBA, as Saunders says. Maybe some day, but not today.
Few coaches have had as much sustained success in college basketball as Billy Donovan has at Florida. Donovan has helped take a mediocre basketball program at a football-dominant school and created an atmosphere that has basketball on the same wavelength of success and popularity as football. With back-to-back national champions in 2006 and 2007 and a third title appearance in 2000, four straight Elite Eight appearances and nine first-round NBA draft picks during his tenure, Donovan has featured great success with the Gators.
Donovan just signed a contract extension through the 2018-19 season worth $3.7 million a year in average salary. He’d be sure to make about that much or more with the Timberwolves should he decide to leave. Donovan has had his name swirling in NBA circles before after his repeat national champions performance in 2007, so this is nothing really new to him, although he has yet to leave Florida–except for that brief “yes, I will; no, I won’t” hiring by the Orlando Magic in 2007.
With these three names the Timberwolves have been rumored to be interested in, Minnesota can’t really go wrong with any of them. Although college coaches coming in to the NBA to coach rarely works out, with Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics being the first attempt at it in quite some time. It’s too early to tell how Stevens and the Celtics will do in the future, but could Izzo, Hoiberg (even though he’s seemingly been eliminated from the conversation) or Donovan be a success in Minnesota?
At this stage of the game it’s too early to tell. Of the three, Hoiberg would be the best option and most likely to replace Adelman had he not been written off by Flip. Things do change, but don’t expect Hoiberg to lead the Timberwolves. Would Donovan leave the warm weather of Florida for Minnesota’s long, unpredictable winters? Believe it or not that is a big factor in decision making for players and coaches and any normal person would say, “Hell, no!”
Of the three, Tom Izzo seems like the most likely of the three to join Minnesota. He already deals with cold weather at Michigan State and has a knack for getting the most out of players few expect to be great. He has a focus on defense, something that plagued the Wolves this season and it would be a lot of fun to see what he could do with Ricky Rubio‘s non-existent jump shot. Whether he’d have Kevin Love to work with remains to be seen, but having the pedigree and success that Izzo has had could compel Love to stick around.
Tom Izzo makes the most sense for the Timberwolves. The question is: will he leave Michigan State?