MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Flip Saunders was Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.
From his college career playing for the Gophers to his professional career coaching, personnel directing and even owning the Timberwolves, nobody has had the kind of impact on the sport in this state like he has.
There’s never been a Wolves team in the playoffs that wasn’t coached by Saunders. In the nine seasons that he coached the full year, the Wolves missed the playoffs only once — last year, when it landed them their first No. 1 overall pick.
“Growing up in Minnesota,” guard Tyus Jones said, “you know how big of a deal Flip Saunders is to the basketball community.”
Veteran guard Kevin Martin said the respect held for Saunders was obvious just walking around the city.
“And when he came back a couple years ago, it just gave a new energy to Minnesota basketball,” Martin said.
The Wolves best years were with Flip. And there now exists so much optimism about their future because of Flip – because of the team he put together. His fingerprints are all over this franchise. Every player on this roster was a player he chose for it.
“His imprint is on this building, it’s on the Target Center,” coach Sam Mitchell, who took over the team when Saunders fell ill, said. “Every one of us, from players to coaches to a lot of guys in basketball (operations), they were handpicked by Flip. We were all here for a reason. He wanted us here.”
So Saunders’ legacy in this state is secure. But perhaps the biggest legacy he leaves is yet to be seen.
“Having had countless conversations with Flip, and knowing how he thinks, I think it’s a whole lot easier for me to continue to implement the vision,” said general manager Milt Newton, whose responsibilities increased when Saunders stepped away in September. “And it’s just a matter of us going forward and putting that plan into process.”
Guard Zach LaVine said the best way to honor Saunders is to see to it that the vision is fulfilled.
“His vision for this team is not going to die,” LaVine said. “We’ve got to go out there and finish it for him.… For the whole season, we’re gonna play our asses off every game for him.”