On Friday, two of the five NBA coaching vacancies had been filled. One was an in-house hiring and the other was a former assistant coach on another team, but both coaches were unexpected.
Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders decided to coach the team himself and he made it official Friday at a press conference. This was a unique position of power in the NBA. Saunders is now the head coach, team president, and part owner of the team.
Saunders joins a small list of individuals in the NBA who maintain both front office and coaching authority. This list consists of L.A. Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Detroit Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy, and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.
Saunders stated that he tried to lure Jeff Van Gundy away from ESPN. Van Gundy turned down the offer, and when Saunders gave Minnesota owner Glen Taylor a list of names on Tuesday, Taylor said Saunders was the most viable candidate. Taylor says it’s not his preferred setup and he is leaving open the option that Saunders will move back into the front office exclusively in the near future.
Saunders also confirmed that the team was “serious” about hiring Memphis Grizzlies’ Dave Joerger earlier this offseason before Joerger decided to stay with the Grizzlies and worked out a more lucrative deal for himself with owner Robert Pera. He also talked to Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. Saunders also addressed the Kevin Love situation, saying the Wolves hadn’t called anybody about him but “we probably have 16 teams that have called us.”
Saunders coached the Wolves from 1995 to 2005 when he was fired during the 2004-05 season. He’s the last coach to take them to the playoffs.
The other coaching vacancy was filled by the Utah Jazz when the team announced Friday that they have hired Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder to replace Tyrone Corbin, who was let go earlier this year after three-plus seasons in Salt Lake City. Snyder agreed to a three-year deal.
Snyder most recently completed his first season as an assistant with Atlanta. He was the head coach at Missouri for seven seasons, from 1999 to 2006, leading the Tigers to four NCAA tournaments. That included an Elite Eight appearance in 2002. Snyder left Missouri after a tumultuous turn that saw NCAA investigations result in his departure.
Snyder coached the Spurs’ D-League affiliate Austin Toros, working under R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich, who have been supporters of Snyder’s career. He has also been an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Snyder spent a year with CSKA Moscow before returning last season to work under Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta.
The new Jazz head coach should have a nice situation to work with. He has a talented big man in Derrick Favors and an extraordinary point guard in Trey Burke, not to mention the Utah Jazz will have a top five draft pick this month.
“The opportunity to join the Utah Jazz and to be part of such a highly respected franchise with an incredibly bright future is a great honor,” Snyder said in a statement. “I approach this opportunity with gratitude and humility and am committed to doing everything I can to help the Jazz become a championship-caliber team.”
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay was familiar with Snyder from his time in Austin. At the end of the regular season the NBA had seven teams with coaching vacancies. Now we are down to three, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Stay tuned.