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 . . .
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…
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!