Two months after it was announced that Flip Saunders was battling cancer (diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), he passed away at the age of 60.
Saunders has 1346 games as a head coach in the regular season and playoffs, and is the only head coach in Minnesota Timberwolves history with a winning record, a winning season (several of them) and taking the team to the playoffs. He also had a successful stint with the Detroit Pistons (three years) and a less notable one with the Washington Wizards.
Saunders is part of the Cleveland Sports hall of fame, rated as the best high school basketball player in the history of the city. His played his college basketball for Minnesota and after graduation began his coaching career.
After going through Golden Valley Lutheran CC and then assistant jobs with Minnesota, Tulsa and different CBA teams, Saunders landed the Timberwolves job in 1995. He first joined the on May 11 as a general manager, and after a slow start to the 1995-1996 season (Kevin Garnett’s rookie year) Saunders became the head coach, working under Kevin McHale, the team’s Vice President of Basketball Operations.
After a rough first season, the good times began. Garnett emerged as one of the best frontcourt players in the league, and in 1997 the Timberwolves made their first playoffs. They reached the postseason eight consecutive seasons, losing in the first round the first seven times. Things peaked in 2003-2004, with Garnett winning the MVP, playing alongside Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Wally Szczerbiak. The Timberwolves finished with the best record in the regular season, losing in the conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Saunders was fired at the end of the 2004-2005 season after failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 1996. He was out after 51 games (25-26) and joined the Detroit Pistons next. The Pistons were coming off two consecutive NBA finals under Larry Brown. Under Saunders, they made three consecutive conference finals and was fired in 2008 after losing to the Boston Celtics in the conference finals, a team led by Kevin Garnett.
Saunders’ next job was with the Washington Wizards. He lasted just over two unsuccessful seasons in D.C., fired after a 2-15 start to the 2011-2012 season.
On May 2013 Saunders was named as the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. A year later he became the team’s head coach for a second stint, but his first season on the sidelines along with his other roles didn’t go so well, ending with a 16-66 record, although the team is loaded with young talent, some of it he brought to the team, like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, two number one picks.