Coachelor

The Coachelor

Coachelor

Written by: Nick Allen and Jonah Steinmeyer

Relationships aren’t easy.

Not just finding the right one, but maintaining them can be just as difficult. That’s been my problem lately. Well, I suppose I should introduce myself before going on much further. Some of you may know me as the Minnesota Timberwolves; others simply refer to me as the Wolves or Pups. It’s all the same to me. As you may have heard, I find myself in the same position I was in three years ago: without a coach.

It’s kind of exciting to be back on the open market, to be honest. My three seasons with Rick Adelman represented the second-longest tenure any coach has had with me before. Is it sad to see him go? A little. His 42.2% winning percentage is the third-best of the 10 coaches I’ve had since my formation in 1989, behind Flip Saunders (55.8%) and Dwane Casey (43.4%). Adelman helped me finish third in the division for the first time since the 2004-’05 season and finished just three wins shy of becoming the second coach to win 100 games with the team. However, he ultimately wasn’t able to snap the embarrassing streak of what is now nine straight losing seasons and ten seasons without making the playoffs. I think the timing was right for both of us to move on.

Of the 25 NBA teams that currently have a head coach, their “relationships” have lasted an average of about 2.8 seasons, or roughly 230 games so far. Gregg Popovich’s 1,410 regular season games coaching the Spurs kind of skews that number, though. Without Pop, that number drops to about 2.2 seasons, or around 180 games. The average length of my past relationships has been about 2.44 seasons, or about 200 games. It’s normal to keep track of these things, right? Either way, at least I’m not the Pistons, who have serious commitment issues, getting rid of two coaches in a in just 10 months from February!

I’m one of five teams that will already be hooking up with a new coach for next season, but the NBA chose to come to me with this unique opportunity. I wanted no part of it at first, but decided to give it a little thought. After weighing my options for several moons, I ultimately decided to take the NBA up on their offer; an offer that could potentially find me a new coach for the long-term, which is what I want right now. I couldn’t let it slip through my paws. I thought I’d be embarrassed to say it at first, but if it puts me in a better position to find a coach that will bring me back to the playoffs, then I must be prepared to admit that I am . . .

The Coachelor.

OPENING NIGHT

I was pretty anxious heading into the first night. Crunch offered to be there for support in making such a difficult decision, but I told him it’d be better for me to do this on my own. As expected, the NBA withheld the identities of the 10 coaches that would be arriving to the mansion. I was a little disappointed that I would have to cut the number of people from 10 to 8 by the end of the first night. The first cut would basically be all about the eye test. Who could pass it?

I was at least able to convince the NBA to do one thing, however. I figured one would need to be able to deal with the weather conditions if they’re going to coach the Timberwolves, so the NBA pulled a few strings with some people I don’t think I want to know. Several inches of snow were dropped throughout the state as temperatures plummeted and the arrival of spring prolonged. Sorry, Minnesota.

10 coaches to arrive and only eight roses to hand out. Let’s do it!

I put my cleanest jersey on and went to the front of the mansion to greet the group of potential coaches. A giant fountain stood in the center of the driveway, sprouting water high into the air as green and blue lights made the water glow in the night sky. That water must’ve been freezing. The first limo approached, passing by giant torches surrounding the fountain. I truly felt butterflies for the first time. Who would be the first to arrive?

The limo slowed to a halt, its tires crunching over the snow as the driver got out to open the door…

THE CONTESTANTS

George Karl: Rumors have been swirling around as to whether or not Karl is interested or if I’m even interested in Karl as a potential coach. The fact of the matter is, you never know how things will go down in the off-season and Karl’s presence on this list of candidates is to be expected at the very least. Five NBA teams have called on him before to lead their players and he brings 25 years of coaching experience to the table. Karl’s teams have only missed the playoffs three of those 25 seasons. However, he has never been able to win a championship. A lot to consider.

Sam Cassell: Here’s a familiar face! As many remember, Cassell played point guard with the team for a couple of seasons from 2003-’05. Cassell was made an assistant coach under Flip Saunders with the Washington Wizards back in 2009 and one can only imagine how useful his experience and knowledge has been for guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. How could he help Ricky Rubio?

Tom Izzo: Will he stay or will he go? I have a feeling there will be a couple of other people that show up on here in similar situations as Izzo. Reports in March suggested that Izzo wouldn’t be interested in leaving his coaching gig at Michigan State for a crack at the NBA, but it hasn’t been ruled out. His presence here confirms it. So there. How can Izzo translate his collegiate coaching success into the NBA, if he so chooses to go down that path? Izzo seems to be able to rally his team as well as anyone by the end of the season, making the Spartans dangerous every March. Can he make the Wolves dangerous in April, May and June?

Fred Hoiberg: Ah, another former player of the team steps out of the limo. Hoiberg played on the team for the same stretch as Cassell, retiring after the 2004-’05 season. Hoiberg took a front office job with the Wolves and eventually became the head coach of his alma mater, Iowa State. The Cyclones have shown improvements after each season under Hoiberg, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in this year’s tournament. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him at Iowa State, but it may be tough to pull him away.

Lionel Hollins: After bringing the Grizzlies to the playoffs three straight seasons, losing in the conference finals in the final season of those three, it was a surprise to some to see Memphis cut Hollins loose. After having taken this season off from coaching, Hollins’ name has been floating around for a coaching job next season. While Hollins’ separation with the Grizzlies may have been largely due to conflicts with management, he’s still an interesting candidate for the job with proven success in his coaching career.

Sam Mitchell: Man, another one? I’m not complaining by any means, it’s great to see old players showing up for a chance to coach the team. Some may not know that Mitchell has head coaching experience. After spending most of his playing career in Minnesota, Mitchell spent a couple of years as an assistant nearby in Milwaukee. Mitchell was given a chance to coach the Toronto Raptors where he failed to make the playoffs for the first two seasons, but improved the team by 20 wins from the 2005-’06 to ‘06-’07 seasons, winning the NBA Coach of the Year in the process. He was never able to help the Raptors get past the first round, but he did show he can help a team improve.

Mark Jackson: I was kind of surprised to see Jackson step out of the limo, but interested in the prospect of him becoming coach nonetheless. Unfortunately, I recall things happening almost exactly like this… Jackson gets out of the limo, looks at the snowy ground and says: “Aw, hell no, take me back to the other side of the fountain. I’m out!”

And just like that, I only had to get rid of one person.

Lindsey Hunter: This is an interesting one. Hunter served as the interim head coach for the Phoenix Suns in 2013, going 12-29 in 41 games as the coach. The Suns ultimately went with Jeff Hornacek to take over for the ‘13-’14 season, leading Hunter to go to Golden State as an assistant coach. While the Warriors’ regime under Jackson was rocky, to say the least, Hunter could still be an option for the head coaching position. If not with Golden State, then maybe somewhere else.

Billy Donovan: I’m kind of surprised by Donovan’s presence. I didn’t really expect him to be here, considering his relationship with the Florida Gators. I don’t know how interested he truly is in a chance at coaching in the NBA. He agreed to coach the Orlando Magic back in 2007, but changed his mind less than a week later and ended up staying with the Gators. While his back-to-back championships several years ago and four-straight Elite Eight appearances are impressive, how interested would he be in moving from Florida to Minnesota? And would he actually commit to the deal if we got to that point?

Time for the last person.

The limo pulls up and the door is opened. My heart stops. I wasn’t expecting to see an ex- here tonight . . .

Flip Saunders: Although my owner, Glen Taylor, has stated he would prefer Saunders to stay in a front office role within the organization, I figure there must be a reason why Saunders is here with the others. Just to stir things up? To cause drama? I mean, he is the only coach to lead the team to the playoffs and have a +.500 coaching record over 10 seasons. And I know he won’t turn away because of the snow.

THE FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There are so many great choices, and thanks to Jackson’s early self-entitled departure, I only had to eliminate one more coach this very night. They all have so many great qualities, so I spent time getting to know them from the beginning. There was a lot of surface talk, chit-chat. I wasn’t all that interested but kept telling myself that this is a long, grueling process and I needed to be thorough. I couldn’t just get to know these coaches on that deep, intellectual level right away. Some seemed distant, like Izzo and Hoiberg. I tried to get them to open up but they seemed preoccupied, like their hearts weren’t really into the idea of the job because they had something else pretty great back home already. And then some were very forward in getting to know me more. I liked that but Hunter, more specifically, continually pushed himself into my conversations and really only kept talking about himself, like it was his way or the highway.

THE ROSE CEREMONY

The end of the night was near, and I had to step away to make my decision on who was going home tonight. I sat and looked over their resumes and thought more and more about what kind of interaction I had with each of them through the night. Oh, this is just so hard. It made me question why I said yes to this whole ordeal in the first place. But then I thought of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the Wolves’ restless fanbase, who just want to simply make the playoffs. This is bigger than just me.

I called the coaches in for the first Roses Ceremony. My hands were trembling as these prestigious basketball minds lined up in front of me. I picked up the first rose, and my words just stumbled out, “These roses belong to the coaches who truly believe that they can help the Wolves make — and advance — through the playoffs.” In no particular order, I started calling out their names to come take a rose.

“George Karl … Sam Mitchell … Sam Cassell … Billy Donovan … Lionel Hollins … Fred Hoiberg … Tom Izzo … and (gulp) Flip Saunders.

“I’m sorry, Lindsey, but you, just like your dear friend Mark Jackson, seem too bullheaded and selfish to be my next head coach. Things in Golden State ended pretty rotten, and although you did some terrific work while there, the baggage was just too much for me to take on at this point.”

With Hunter and Jackson officially gone, the remaining coaches gathered for a toast and I assured them all that I will do my absolute best to get to know them in the coming weeks. It’s going to be a long road in finding my new head coach but I’m embracing the challenge head on, knowing that my fans and players will have my back.

Next week on The Coachelor: The coaches continue to push for my attention and I’m kind of enjoying it. Not many before this point have vied for the job this hard, so it’s something new and exhilarating. But just as everything seems to be going just fine, one of our contestants tells me he’s just not ready to be with me on this level quite yet — or maybe even ever. Stay tuned!

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Who Coaches the Timberwolves Next Season?

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It’s not uncommon in sports to have the coach become the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman has been no exception with fans. Some have been frustrated by his rotations and questioning his in-game adjustments. There has been speculation that Adelman may walk away from the job after this season after his wife struggled with health issues last season. Consequently, this has led to even more speculation about who would replace him as coach in such an instance.

The first name that many fans have been drawn to is Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg has strong ties to the Timberwolves organization as both a player and management. Given the team’s history for bringing in former associate’s, this makes sense. My only question is would the grass be greener for Fred in the NBA? I’m not so sure. He has built a successful program in Ames, Iowa and was handsomely rewarded by signing an extension worth 10 years, $20 million. On top of that, college coaches have an iffy track record in transitioning in the NBA. It’s really an entirely different animal, but Hoiberg may still be able to reach professional players considering he was one not too long ago.

Secondly, there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. This is one that I personally doubt would happen. I mean, Tom Izzo is the face of the Spartans’ program with a great reputation and financial situation. Unless he’s yearning for the challenge to prove to him that he could be a successful coach at both levels, it’s hard to see.

Then there has been Jeff Van Gundy, who probably hasn’t coached since I was in elementary school. Van Gundy is apparently close with Flip Saunders, so there’s that, but Van Gundy has had a steady, less-stressful gig as a broadcaster, which no former player or coach would gladly choose to give up. After years of being off the court would he want to jump back in now? Is this the right situation for him to return? None of these questions I really have the answer to, but Stan Van Gundy, his brother, would be the more likely replacement than Jeff. Though SVG would require more shooters as he had in Orlando, but may do wonders for this defense. SVG is still a good coach who would probably be coaching had he not been fired by Dwight Howard. I mean, the Magic.

Finally, there’s Saunders himself who is the likeliest candidate at this point. Saunders has had the itch ever since he left Washington and was rumored for the Gophers coaching job before Richard Pitino was hired on. Additionally, he is close to Taylor and this way they wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it.

Of course some of this will likely come down to Kevin Love. Love’s opinion likely matters and that’s one of the reasons besides being a good coach the team won’t push Adelman out the door. We don’t even know for sure if Adelman is leaving as nothing has been voiced publicly by any party involved. This conversation may very well wind up being for nothing, but this is kinda where we’re at now.

Coaching search catch up

The Timberwolves’ coaching search began last week shortly after David Kahn relieved Kurt Rambis of his duties and to say it’s going swimmingly would be a bold understatement. There are actually some palatably terrific names on the docket that have already interviewed with another Hall of Fame coach in the wake.

To get you caught up on Kahn’s search, here is a list of the coaches that have been linked to the Wolves in some sort of way — an actual interview or even just a rumor — in the past few weeks.

Terry Porter: Porter was the first to interview for the job a last week, which should come as a surprise to no one. Porter has a rapport with the Timberwolves’ organization and should be popular amongst the fans.

Although Porter is a former T-Wolf and has experience in the driver’s seat of an NBA sideline, he wasn’t the top dog given his past for many fans. Once the news broke of Rambis’ ousting, former player, Sam Mitchell, had his name sprout up in every day conversations. Mitchell won the Coach of the Year award in 2007 by turning around a putrid Toronto Raptors team into a playoff contender, but then quickly faded into the dust.

Whether Mitchell is interested in the job or not, it doesn’t change the fact that Porter may be the team’s next former-player-turned-coach. Porter started his coaching career in Milwaukee. He was there for two seasons and went 71-93 before being fired in 2005. It wasn’t long before Porter snapped up the head job in Phoenix in 2008 but his luck didn’t take a turn since Milwaukee and he found his way out the door after 51 games, winning 28 of them.

So although Porter’s coaching record may be down, he’s never had a full opportunity to showcase his leadership abilities. In Minnesota, Porter would have the ability to mentor a young, talented bunch into a faster-paced, offensive-oriented game. He’s a highly respected man in the NBA and would certainly make a difference in the current inexperienced culture in the Timberwolves’ locker room.

Mike Woodson: Woodson’s name has been all over the place this summer. Just about any team with a head coaching vacancy, Woodson has been rumored to be a contender. It’s no different here in Minnesota, and rightfully so.

Woodson is known as the coach who turned the Atlanta Hawks around. Before the current day Hawks who have trouble missing out on the top 4 in the Eastern Conference, the old Hawks — From 1999-2007 — were just pitiful and were struggling staying afloat financially. They hired Mike Woodson with the future in mind and he hung in there to the best of his abilities. Once Atlanta’s front office nailed down players like Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Hawks turned their losing ways around and made the playoffs for three straight seasons. After a second round series dropped to the Orlando Magic, the Hawks announced that they would not resign Woodson for the 2010-2011 season.

And here we are. Woodson’s devotion toward changing Atlanta’s losing atmosphere showed his true passion as an NBA coach. Not to mention some serious adversity. Woodson would need the same mentality if he were to come to Minnesota. He’d have a similar situation in Atlanta where he’d have the talent to work with but would need the time and support from the front office to turn Minnesota’s ship around.

Bernie Bickerstaff: Even when Rambis was still the coach, the hottest rumor on the stove was the opportunity of bringing in Bernie to reunite him with his son, J.B., who was an assistant here under Rambis. It was a classic NCAA football “Coach-in-waiting” situation. Those never work out, to put it nicely, and neither did the Wolves’ dream. J.B. bolted for a job on the Houston Rockets’ bench under Kevin McHale. But that didn’t put the Wolves’ interest in Bernie to an end.

Although the dream of Bernie mentoring his son in the art of coaching for a few years and having him take his place at a later date didn’t last, Bernie can still be a valuable coach for the Timberwolves. He ranks 33rd in the NBA in all-time wins with a record of 414-512, coaching for an array of teams such as the Seattle SuperSonics, Denver Nuggets, Washington Bullets/Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats, his last head coaching gig.

The experience is certainly there but a fair question to ask is: Without J.B. in the shadows, is bringing Bernie in worth the investment?

Rick Adelman: Adelman should be considered the prize of this ongoing search for a coach. After not agreeing to a new contract with the Houston Rockets, he left H-town after four seasons and 183 wins, but his legacy was constructed long before that.

Adelman has an illustrious coaching career, having coached some of basketball’s most impressive teams in recent history. It started in Portland, where Adelman was graced by Clyde Drexler’s on-court presence in his first head coaching gig. It continued on with the glory days in Sacramento, led by Chris Webber, Jason Williams and Vlade Divac.

The Sacramento days is what Kahn ought to pay close attention to when assessing Adelman’s comfortability in Minnesota. A lot of the pieces that Adelman had in Sacramento are here in Minnesota. It starts with the point guard, Ricky Rubio. Rubio possesses special abilities to open the court and find his teammates; just the way Jason Williams did in his heyday, utilizing his flash and glam to keep the crowd on their toes. Wes Johnson reminds me a little of Doug Christie in his deep range and quick trigger. And Derrick Williams has the ability to play an inside-out game such as Chris Webber, with even a little more finesse.

Some of the pieces are there and the Timberwolves’ roster obviously goes much deeper than those mentioned already. Kevin Love, although not a solid comparison to anybody on the old Kings team, already has a special relationship with Adelman. Love and Adelman’s son attended the same high school and were good buddies. Because of that, Adelman has been openly fond of Love’s talent and accomplishments so far in the league.

Even though the match seems like it was made in heaven, it’s not quite at that point just yet, at least in Adelman’s mind. Actually, Wolves fans should be grateful to hear the Adelman even spoke with Kahn via phone on Saturday. Typically with a coach of Adelman’s caliber, once they hit a certain age — Adelman’s already 65-years old — a front office job, something less stressful, would seem to be perfect. Or even a coaching job for a veteran-based squad would be ideal. But a coaching job for the youngest team in the league, despite the talent and potential, is a big and risky step for any veteran coach in the league.

With that said, Wolves players, fans and Kahn alike should be praying Adelman’s “interest” in the job is substantial. If it is, the Wolves may have landed the big one.

Don Nelson: It shouldn’t be surprising to hear about Don Nelson’s interest in the job. After all, his daughter and grandchildren live in Minnetonka. But the real reason is Nelson can’t get enough of young, fast and immature rosters.

Nelson dealt with a similar situation to the Timberwolves in Golden State, his last head coaching gig in 2010. His first two seasons in Oakland went well, making the playoffs in his first season, thanks to a solid season from Baron Davis and Jason Richardson. But then the downhill slide sloped ever so slightly and Nelson couldn’t prevent the fall. Heated conversations between Nelson and the front office led to confrontations between Nelson and the players, including a tiff with current Timberwolf, Anthony Randolph.

Whether Nelson is willing to part with having total control over all team operations remains to be seen, but there’s no denying Nelson’s coaching ability. He’s one of the league’s best coaches in history and has won Coach of the Year on three separate occasions. The Wolves would be honored to have Nelson pace their sideline as long as his ego doesn’t get in the way. His job here would be to teach the game to these youngsters, not change who they are. Also, the Wolves may need a few more years to prove competitive within the league. Could Don Nelsons age, 71, be a problem in the future?

Larry Brown: Brown is next up to interview for the Timberwolves. There’s an obvious trend going on here. Aside from the first two interviewees, Terry Porter and Mike Woodson, all other candidates are 60-years old or older.

Kahn is looking for experience, a perennial winner. After gambling and missing on a younger, less experienced coach in Rambis, Kahn needs to go with a sure-thing, thus the reason to call in three or more Hall of Fame coaches.

Brown, unlike Nelson, has a championship under his coaching accolades. He also won Coach of the Year in 2001 with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown likely wouldn’t race the tempo as much as Kahn would prefer, but he would be able to settle these players down and teach them the game properly.

The biggest question around Brown, aside from his age, 70, is indeed his ability to handle younger players. In Brown’s last coaching stint in Charlotte, he struggled to manage younger players’ attitudes and egos, specifically Tyrus Thomas. Brown seemed to lose patience with young, struggling players and grew impatient with their slower learning curve. That would be a major problem in Minnesota given the state of such a young roster.

Coaching search nets two more

This according to ESPN:

MINNEAPOLIS — Portland assistant Bernie Bickerstaff interviewed with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday and former Houston coach Rick Adelman was scheduled to come in Saturday as the team searches for a new coach.

A person with knowledge of the process told The Associated Press on Friday about the interviews. The person requested anonymity because the team is not commenting publicly on its coaching search.

If you read on, it’s interesting to see that Adelman has interest in our young Pups. Common knowledge has Adelman pegged for a job with a veteran-based squad, or even a front office job that keeps the 66-year old off the sidelines. But, even as the article has it, coaches from far and wide are drooling at the potential in this team’s roster. From Rubio to Williams to even Randolph, coaches see this team as a frightening bunch and the terror they could potentially cause the league for years to come. It’s a rather intriguing destination, even for big names like Adelman.

Didn’t think I would ever be able to call Minnesota an “intriguing destination”. Weird.