The Minnesota Timberwolves are getting a new coach—well, sort of. A source that wished to remain anonymous informed the Associated Press on September 10 that the current assistant coach, Sam Mitchell, is set to replace Flip Saunders as coach while he is undergoing cancer treatment.
Official confirmation has not yet been made by the Wolves, although Kyle Ratke, a writer, did post a photograph to Twitter, informing that a press release was scheduled in Minneapolis for September 11, where “a major announcement” would be made.
Sam Mitchell, 52, is a retired pro-basketball player who made his debut in the NBA with the Wolves, and also played 10 of his 13 successful seasons with them. Since last June, he had been serving as assistant coach to Saunders, who is now reportedly receiving chemotherapy and radiation for a “very treatable and curable” cancer known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
After ten seasons of coaching the Timberwolves, Saunders was fired in 2005, only to come back in 2013 as the president of basketball operations. He took over the haphazard roster from the former president, David Kahn, and set out to rehabilitate the team to its former status as a consistent playoff participant.
Soon after when head coach Rick Adelman retired the next season, Saunders named himself as the replacement, partly because All-Star Kevin Love’s uncertain relationship with the team was proving to be difficult to get a qualified coach. On the heels of that news, he traded Love to Cleveland for number one overall choice, Andrew Wiggins, who then won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
With three titles under his belt, Saunders is as powerful as any other NBA coach. However, this season will likely see the new interim coach, Sam Mitchell, attempting to fuse his play style with the philosophies and plans of Saunders. Mitchell was previously the coach of the Toronto Raptors, but got fired in 2008, despite winning NBA Coach of the Year in 2007. Two years after that, he did a stint for the New Jersey Nets as an assistant coach, along with some radio work before he was roped in by the Wolves.