After winning Tuesday's 2015 NBA draft lottery, the Minnesota Timberwolves will enter June's draft with the No. 1 overall pick and the opportunity to add another top-flight talent to a young core that already includes reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, high-flying guard Zach LaVine and passing wizard Ricky Rubio. But with the first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history on the way — well, the first one the Wolves themselves will actually pick, having added 2014 top choice Wiggins and 2013 No. 1 Anthony Bennett in last summer's trade sending Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers — could the new-look Wolves soon find themselves led by a new head coach?
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Wolves owner Glen Taylor, whose first-ever trip to represent his team at the lottery resulted in the franchise's first-ever No. 1 pick — "You know, I shouldn’t have been asking for a free ticket," he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Jerry Zgoda in explaining why he'd never come before. "I should have paid for it myself, like I did today” — raised the possibility of paring back the responsibilities of team president and head coach Flip Saunders to include solely the executive duties he handled prior to Rick Adelman's departure.
“It’s not definite,” Taylor said, after pausing for a few seconds when asked specifically about Saunders returning as head coach. “But in my mind, with the effort that he put in this year to bring this team along, it’s probably 90 percent. If he sees somebody and he changes his mind, he certainly could convince me. I think eventually I want a different coach, and I want him to be the GM. My guess is that he’ll go another year.”
Landing the top pick in the draft may be a nice enticement for Saunders to want to remain in the coaching position, but Taylor says that this recent, exciting development won’t affect that decision.
“It won’t change,” Taylor said of Saunders’ thought process. “I think that Flip will change if he sees somebody in the coaching ranks that he really respects, and thinks in the long run that they will be the right guy for this team, then I think he’ll make that decision.”
It's entirely reasonable to raise concerns about whether one person, no matter how talented and competent, can be a top-notch player-personnel executive and an effective head coach in today's NBA. There's just too much to be on top of, too many scouting and development tasks to oversee on one end and too much game-planning and tactical minutiae on the other to capably handle all of it. Yes, the sheer amount of power and organizational control that comes with holding both titles sure seems appealing, but if you come up short in one area, you leave yourself and your franchise open to all sorts of criticism; just ask "GM Doc." (For the record, the Timberwolves do have a general manager, well-regarded former Washington Wizards executive Milt Newton.)
Here's the thing, though: If Taylor sees value in having one person focus solely on running basketball operations and another focusing solely on coaching his club, then why wait a year to make a move?
Beyond Scott Brooks, who will reportedly wait a year to pursue a head coaching job after being fired by the Oklahoma City Thunder last month, we don't yet have any idea which coaching options Saunders might have come next summer. It does seem likely, however, that he'd have a few intriguing options open this summer — current Golden State Warriors assistant and former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, reportedly on-the-outs Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, ousted Pelicans bench boss Monty Williams, former Timberwolves player and president of basketball operations, current Iowa State coach and rumored Chicago target Fred Hoiberg, among others — who might find the opportunity to coach the last three No. 1 picks (we still hold out hope for you, Anthony Bennett) pretty enticing. Presumably, at least one of those options would be someone that Flip "really respects."
You can certainly understand Saunders — who holds an ownership stake in the team along with his president of basketball operations title and head coaching spot — wanting that opportunity for himself, even if neither he nor Taylor envisions that being a long-term solution on the bench. That raises a key question, though.
If Saunders will lead the way in determining which player the Wolves select first overall, will he do so in pursuit of the prospect who best fits his preferred, and perhaps somewhat antiquated, offensive style — Minnesota finished dead last in the league in 3-pointers made and attempted this season, and in the share of team offense generated from beyond the arc — or with an eye toward finding a player who might provide more options for whichever coach will wind up replacing him on the bench? SB Nation's Paul Flannery considers the conundrum, which figures to find form in the choice between Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke's Jahlil Okafor, the draft's two most highly touted big men:
Okafor is going to be a monster scorer, the kind of big you build with if you want to play inside out with a force on the low block. He brings elite size and a package of skills that include NBA-ready post moves, a shooter's touch and advanced footwork. Once he becomes established, he'll command double-teams in the post and use his passing acumen to find cutters like Andrew Wiggins, last year's top pick and the reigning Rookie of the Year.
The only problem is it's not 10 years ago and most teams don't want to play that way anymore. They value spacing on offense and rim protection on defense. Okafor's offensive strengths are minimized by his defensive shortcomings. Modern big men are also expected to step out and shoot 18-20 footers if not extend all the way to the three-point line, leaving the paint open for slashers and creators to drive to the basket.
That's what Karl-Anthony Towns brings to the equation, along with a defensive reputation enhanced by his one season at Kentucky where he focused on rebounding and blocking shots. While not a featured part of Kentucky's offense, Towns has shown an ability to extend his range to the perimeter. His rough edges offensively can be smoothed out in time as he grows into his body.
Just about every team in the league would happily make Towns the top pick and be perfectly content knowing they have the most expensive spot on the roster filled with a cost-controlled 19-year-old. Yet, only one team has the top pick and that team is said to be enamored with Okafor's game.
Will "Saunders the POBO and Saunders the part-owner [...] override the reluctance of Saunders the coach to change his ways" when it comes to retooling his roster in the draft, as the great Britt Robson posited at MinnPost? Or will Saunders find Okafor's throwback refined low-post game too attractive to pass up, even if the next head coach of the Timberwolves, whoever that winds up being, might've preferred to go in a different direction?
There already figured to be plenty of intrigue surrounding the Timberwolves' decision at the top of the draft. The possibility that their top executive's top choice and their coach's top choice might not be the same guy, despite the fact that the executive and coach are, should only add to a month of speculation and shifting sands.
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