Let me set the context straight away. It’s offseason. I’ve just finished the latest season of House of Cards. I have no deep insight into the Wolves specifically, I’m just calling it how I see. And I’m very bored. It’s offseason. Most of this is fictitious straw-gasping, but I hope it’s semi-entertaining for those who also watch House of Cards. Did anyone say offseason? Have fun…
“Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it.”
That being said, I’m making the case for Flip Saunders’s rise to power in the Twin Cities asvery Frank Underwood-esque. For those of you unfamiliar with the series (and I’ll try not to drop any spoilers), Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood, a US senator who calculates his way through the White House, double-crossing, wheeling and dealing and snaking his way into positions of power. At many times, you just marvel at how he manages to juggle the balls to get what he wants, despite his overt (at least to the audience) lack of morals and quenching thirst for said power. This marvelling, is how I feel about Flip Saunders as the Head Coach / President of Basketball Operations / Part Owner / Cheerleader / Masseuse / Hot Dog Vendor of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
The history between Flip and the Timberwolves is long. He was first brought on as a GM, then coached for ten years (catching prime Kevin Garnett years), obviously developed a strong relationship along the way with owner Glen Taylor to become a part-owner, and was let go in the coaching role in 2005 following team struggles. After all the success and rise to the playoffs, this is where the hurtful blow is struck. It ignites the flame in Flip.
“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.”
Scorned, Flip heads to Detroit to take over the Pistons from Larry Brown and basically take a ready-made team back to the NBA Finals but ultimately falling to the Spurs as runner-up. This was his moment of gloating to Minnesota, proving he can be a strong coach and a potential championship coach with the right level of talent. But this moment in the sun would be fleeting. The Pistons, while still prideful, make it to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals but are headed steadily downhill, with Joe Dumars set to gut the team, draft picks not panning out or developing (Darko) and Flip is again let go in the 2008. Again another hit to Flip’s pride, perhaps unfairly, given a Finals and Conference Finals appearance. ‘Merely a bump in the road’ as Frank Underwood would whisper while breaking the fourth wall of television.
“Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.”
Next comes the Wizards, dangling 4 years $18 million at Flip. How can you say no? A promising level of talent exists on the team with a young Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison…but you’ve also got Andray Blatche, Javale McGee and DeShawn Stevenson. This too falls apart for Flip, and like a slap in the face, he’s replaced by former Timberwolves coach Randy Whitman. Flip got his payday, but what he truly wanted was to prove himself as a coach and be in the position of power to decide his own destiny. Not be fired after 10 years of loyal service or after Finals and Conference Finals appearances or after being paid off to go away.
“From this moment on you are a rock. You absorb nothing, you say nothing, and nothing breaks you.”
Flip lies in the weeds on NBA TV for a couple of years. Enjoying his money, commenting objectively on TV, but not quite getting that George Karl-esque respect that would befit a coach on the sidelines. No one is sharing their desires to be coached by Flip. No one notices him. No one is missing him.
“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.”
Cue the return of Flip to President of Basketball Operations in June 2014. Coming off a losing season, faced with losing their superstar Kevin Love, Flip was brought in to fill the Larry Bird role. “Stick with me kid, I’ll help build a winner for you”. Coach Rick Adelman was always on his way out, casual fans could see that. And Flip had a bevy of coaching options to try to bring in and raise the possibility of Kevin Love staying and the Timberwolves staying relevant. George Karl, Fred Hoiberg, Lionel Hollins etc. One by one, he let them slip away. Let them take other roles and none being NBA head coaching roles. He lets the Kevin Love drama fester and then names himself as coach. The only other coaches in the NBA which as much influence on an organisation are Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy. Both possess better coaching records (Doc: 644-498, 1 ring; SVG: 371-208, .641%; Flip: 638-526, .548%) and overall influence in the league.
Finally, a chance at redemption. And this chance comes with a large dose of insurance. Many think Love is going to walk no matter what, so Flip can’t be blamed as a coach should Love leave and the team perform badly. Likewise, he is in the positional of power to trade Love for future pieces, which “Coach Flip” would not be happy with because the Wolves won’t be able to win immediately, but “President Flip” is more than happy with to build for the long term. Any criticism of one of Flip’s roles, is ultimately an endorsement of the other. He has the power of protection from being hunted, whilst taking a swing at his coaching legacy once more to prove to Minnesota they should never have let him go all those years ago.
He has his shot at ultimate power. The chance at immortality in Minnesota.Follow @jasonkuok