MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves have decided they want to bring Dave Joerger home to be their coach. Now all that stands in the way is agreeing on a contract and any possible compensation with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Timberwolves decided on Joerger as the replacement for Rick Adelman on Saturday night after the Minnesota-born Grizzlies coach met with team leadership, including owner Glen Taylor, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
Joerger, who went 50-32 in his first season as coach of the Grizzlies and helped the team to the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoff field, is still under contract for two more years in Memphis. But owner Robert Pera is believed to be considering a coaching change after he recently fired CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash, and it remained unclear just how much the Timberwolves want to give to the Grizzlies for a coach many presume could be fired any day.
Joerger, who is from Staples and went to college at Minnesota State, Moorhead, met with Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders on Thursday, then with several Wolves officials, including Taylor, for a second interview on Saturday evening.
It’s clear he made quite an impression, because the Wolves decided shortly after the second meeting to zero in on him over other candidates including former Raptors coach and Timberwolves player Sam Mitchell and Lionel Hollins, who was replaced by Joerger in Memphis before this season.
The 40-year-old Joerger got to know Saunders as a young man trying to break into the coaching ranks when he was allowed to sit on several training camp practices for the Timberwolves, who were coached by Saunders from 1995-2005. He then followed a similar career path to Saunders, winning five championships while coaching in the International Basketball Association, the CBA and the NBDL before breaking into the NBA as an assistant with the Grizzlies seven years ago.
After the Grizzlies lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference finals last year, Joerger took over for the dismissed Hollins and impressed with his ability to adjust his schemes and philosophies to the talent on his roster, and do it on the fly. The Grizzlies started this season 10-15, prompting Joerger to ditch the more open offensive style he was trying to institute on a team that struggled to score in the halfcourt for the slower-paced, “Grit ‘n’ Grind” style that became the Grizzlies’ hallmark under Hollins.
But a seven-game slugfest with the Thunder in the first round wasn’t enough to convince Pera that the team was headed in the right direction, and the uncertainty surrounding his job, coupled with the prospects of returning home to coach under Saunders, hold great appeal for Joerger.
Saunders has always had an affinity for coaches who have had to grind their way to the top through the backwaters of minor league basketball and he is also intrigued by Joerger’s enthusiasm for the job even given the uncertain status of star forward Kevin Love, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
Love’s situation has given several higher profile candidates pause, but Joerger still fits the profile of an energetic coach who has had success as a head coach that Saunders is looking for to take over a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004.
Joerger grew up in tiny Staples, about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis, an upbringing that no doubt appealed to Taylor, a small-town Minnesotan himself.
But more than place of birth, Joerger’s successful background as a basketball lifer who would prefer to play an up-tempo style of game no doubt helped push him over the top in the eyes of Taylor and Saunders, who were in search of an experienced coach with a willingness to play a free-flowing system that would fit a team with Ricky Rubio at point guard and, for now, Love at power forward.
Love has spent his first six seasons in Minnesota and has yet to make the playoffs, which leads many to believe he will leave the Timberwolves for the chance to join a team ready to contend.
That could prompt the Wolves to trade the face of the franchise, either this summer or before the February trade deadline, rather than risk letting him walk without receiving compensation.
Those involved didn’t believe negotiating a contract would be much of an issue between the Wolves and Joerger. But if Pera tries to play hardball and insist on significant compensation in the form of draft picks, the process could take a little longer.
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