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Flip Saunders: Wolves would have hired Jeff Van Gundy

By James Herbert | NBA writer

Jeff Van Gundy is staying with ESPN.
Jeff Van Gundy is staying with ESPN. (USATSI)

More Offseason Analysis: Coaching changes, news | Free Agency | Draft

Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders said that, before deciding to coach the team himself, he tried to lure Jeff Van Gundy away from ESPN, via the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman. Van Gundy turned the job down, and when Saunders gave Minnesota owner Glen Taylor a list of names on Tuesday, Taylor said Saunders was the most viable candidate.

“The first guy that I went to and tried to get was Jeff Van Gundy. He was the first guy,” Saunders said Thursday, when word came out that he would coach the Wolves next season. “… He's a guy that Glen and I were comfortable [with] and would have hired him off the bat. I feel like he's the best coach, the best coach out there and has a lot of the same philosophies.

“As Jeff said to me, I talked to him this morning, and he said, ‘Whenever I go somewhere I want to feel that I'm the right guy for that job.' He said, ‘The reason I didn't go to Minnesota was because I felt you were the right guy for the job, not me, and I was uncomfortable.' ”

Tuesday, Saunders and Taylor met in Mankato. Taylor gave Saunders permission to coach if he so desired and after talking to a number of advisers, Saunders decided to take over.

Saunders confirmed that the team was "serious" about the Memphis Grizzlies' Dave Joerger and he had talked to Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. He also addressed the Kevin Love situation, saying the Wolves hadn't called anybody about him but "we probably have 16 teams that have called us."

Minnesota is expected to hire Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe as assistant coaches, according to the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. There will be a press conference to officially announce Saunders' return to the sidelines at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.

The Wolves are in a transition period in a couple of ways -- they will be moving on from the Rick Adelman era, and it appears extremely likely they will be moving on from the Love era. They might revisit some of these other coaching candidates a year or two from now, and Saunders' challenge is to move the team in the right direction in the interim. With the probable exit of Love, that will not be an easy task.

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