The Minnesota Timberwolves have been a part of the NBA for twenty-two seasons. They've made it to the Western Conference Finals one time, back in 2003-04, and lost in the first round of the playoffs seven consecutive years prior to that. Their on-court performance has not exactly been the picture of consistent excellence. . .and over the course of the last few years, they've rarely even been a picture of competence.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than at the position of head coach. In the Timberwolves' twenty-two seasons of existence, only Flip Saunders. . .the only coach in Timberwolves history to have led the team to the post-season. . .lasted longer than two seasons. Bill Musselman, Jimmy Rogers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair, Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman, Kevin McHale, and most recently Kurt Rambis were all fired by the team after no more than two years on the Timberwolves' bench.
Now, the Wolves are again looking for a head coach, as Rambis was fired a couple of days before the draft. Or he was fired after the draft. Or he may not have been fired yet. With Glen Taylor, David Kahn and company, one can never be too sure. But if they are looking for a head coach, there will be plenty of names tossed about, but the best option, in this writer's opinion, is a name that will recall a lot of fond memories for long-time Timberwolves fans, and probably even generate some buzz among the faithful.
That name is Sam Mitchell.
Mitchell was an original Timberwolf, having signed with the team as a free agent prior to the 1989 season. (He was drafted in the third round of the 1985 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets, but never played for them, bouncing around the CBA for a few years instead.) Mitchell started 153 out of 244 games over the course of Minnesota's first three seasons, averaging at least 10.1 points a game and 5.8 rebounds per game for those three seasons, including a 1990-91 season when he averaged career highs in points (14.6) and rebounds (6.3) per game.
Prior to the 1992-93 season, Mitchell (along with Pooh Richardson) was traded to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Micheal Williams and Chuck Person. He spent three years in Indiana before re-signing with the Timberwolves as a free agent before the 1995-96 season, and he stayed with the Wolves until he retired after the 2001-02 season. As it stands today, he is second to Kevin Garnett in the Timberwolves' record books in nearly every major category, to include games played, points, and rebounds.
Mitchell then entered the coaching ranks, working his way up to becoming the head coach of the Toronto Raptors prior to the 2004-05 season. In four seasons with the Raptors, he led them to the post-season twice, including an Atlantic Division title in 2006-07. Strangely, he was fired by the Raptors during the 2008-09 season after just 17 games when the team got off to an 8-9 start.
Mitchell has a reputation as being a no-nonsense coach, much the same attitude he had as a player. With a team with a core of players as young as the current Timberwolves have, they need a guy that can be a bit of a taskmaster to keep everybody in line. He also has the credentials and a track record of success as an NBA head coach that should be attractive to a young team like Minnesota. Couple that with the fact that he's an original member of the franchise and has a long history with the team, and it would seem to be a perfect fit.
When the Wolves' coaching search well and truly gets underway, I'm sure you'll hear the names of a lot of retreads and guys that the game has passed by at this point. But if Glen Taylor is serious about winning. . .and quite frankly, there are many times when I'm not terribly sure that he is. . .Sam Mitchell will be at the top of his list of guys to be the tenth head coach in Timberwolves history.