This wasn't the plan. Had things gone how the Timberwolves had planned them, Flip Saunders would be coaching and developing the young players he hand-picked to help turn around the struggling franchise.
However, cancer had plans of its own, and Saunders died of Hodgkins Lymphoma just before the season started.
Sam Mitchell was promoted to interim head coach, but a 6-25 stretch that followed Minnesota's surprising 8-8 start has fans turning apathetic and reports of growing tensions between Minnesota's young core and its old-school coach.
According to a report from the Associated Press, nearly half of the players on the Wolves roster have privately expressed concerns about Mitchell. The report notes those complaints centered three things.
- His outdated offensive system
- His tendency to platoon his rotations
- A lack of personal accountability for the struggles
Mitchell recently discussed some of the challenges of developing young players in a lengthy Q & A with MinnPost.
"People think that learning is easy. But if it is not a habit – OK, you watch Kyrie Irving. Every time he goes to get the ball, he steps into his guy and then breaks off – every time. That's all he knows. It is a habit. I learned it when I started going to basketball camp. But back then, that was professional coaches at those camps, high school and college coaches teaching us. It wasn't some guy that owned a car wash and had some money and decided he was going to start an AAU team and he was gonna be the coach because he read a book or he watched basketball, and thinking he can coach. No, I had professional coaches."
NBC Sports notes that Mitchell's complaining about his players' youth coaches hasn't been popular and that the best NBA coaches at developing players find ways to strike a balance between criticism and praise.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor has said that Mitchell and general manager Milt Newton will have the full season to show what they can do, but if things don't start turning around, the Wolves could be looking for a new leader over the summer.