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Zulgad: Will Wolves owner get it right this time? Don’t count on it

The Timberwolves’ biggest concern this offseason should be Andrew Wiggins’ contract and what to do about a disappointing player who will be paid like a superstar for four more seasons because the franchise made the mistake of signing him to a max deal.

That in itself would be a major headache for an organization that is out of the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 seasons. But because these are Glen Taylor’s Timberwolves the Wiggins’ situation is only the tip of the iceberg.

On a night that featured numerous juicy storylines in the NBA, including Magic Johnson’s decision to step down as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Dwyane Wade’s final home game in Miami and Dirk Nowitziki’s final home game in Dallas, it was largely lost in the shuffle when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted late Tuesday that the Wolves were “finalizing plans to keep GM Scott Layden and coach Ryan Saunders.”

This tweet was met with quick criticism from some — OK, I melted down — mainly because Layden was brought here as Tom Thibodeau’s righthand man in 2016 and when Thibodeau was fired in January the assumption was Layden would follow him out the door after the season. This would be so Taylor-like to allow himself to become attached to a guy who was associated with someone who stood by and nodded his approval as Thibodeau played the role of organizational bully, even as Jimmy Butler was making Thibodeau look foolish.

The Wolves clarified things by announcing that a search for a president of basketball operations — the title Thibodeau held, along with head coach — would begin after Wednesday night’s season finale in Denver. The press release said that no timeline had been set and no further updates would be provided until the conclusion of the search.

“In the absence of Tom, I want to thank all who picked up his responsibilities this past year,” Taylor said in a statement. “This includes interim head coach Ryan Saunders, general manager Scott Layden and our entire basketball staff for their efforts leading our team through the 2018-19 season. They worked through a season with many injuries requiring many challenges in our player lineup. We are incredibly grateful to them for all of their hard work and commitment to the franchise.

“The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves continues to be very bright. It’s more important than ever that we find a leader who can build a successful team in today’s fast-paced NBA. We have the cornerstones of a very talented team and need to assemble the final pieces that will elevate us into a playoff team and one that can compete for championships.”

All of this should have made Wolves fans feel better, only it likely didn’t. And for good reason. Having confidence in the Taylor-led Wolves has become nearly impossible. The Wolves’ 47-35 finish last season marked the first time since 2004-05 they had finished .500 or above. That was followed by a miserable 36-46 season which the Wolves closed with a 99-95 loss in Denver.

This time, Taylor reportedly won’t use a search firm in his quest to find a basketball boss, like he did when he hired Thibodeau. Think that’s good news?

It didn’t take a search firm for Taylor to find David Kahn to run the Wolves’ basketball operations (right into the ground) in 2009. The one time it appeared this dysfunctional franchise had found stability in the front office was when Flip Saunders returned in 2013.  Saunders assumed the head coaching role a year later but passed away in August 2015 from complications associated with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Word now is that Flip’s son, 32-year-old  Ryan, will be elevated to the head coaching job on a permanent basis in the coming weeks. It’s unclear what type of process Taylor will use for finding a president of basketball operations this time, but it might have to be a person who is comfortable being given a hand-picked head coach who went 17-25 in the interim role.

This doesn’t seem like a great idea, but given the way Taylor operates, and given the fact that bringing in an outsider like Thibodeau did not work, it would be surprising if Saunders does not get the job. It’s also not going to be a shock if Wojnarowski’s report turns out to be accurate and Layden is kept aboard.

Those who think the Wolves need to start over — again — aren’t going to like this and there is a chance the team’s business operations people get to Taylor and convince him that at the very least Layden needs to go because selling anything that is closely associated with Thibodeau will be impossible. It will be interesting to see if the Wolves reach out to Staples, Minn., native Dave Joerger, who was fired as coach of the Sacramento Kings on Thursday and was close with Flip Saunders.

The other important part of this equation — beyond selling tickets — will be selling Karl-Anthony Towns on the fact this franchise is going to finally get itself on the right track. Towns is a superstar in the making and his max contract starts next season. That’s a five-year deal so some will say that the Wolves have plenty of time to get this right. The problem is the Wolves have spent the better part of the past 15 years, and much of their franchise history, being inept so that’s simply not true.

Much like Anthony Davis has decided he wants out of New Orleans, Towns could do the same in the coming years if the Wolves continue to trip all over themselves. If that happens, if Towns decides he’s had enough, it might be time to shut off the lights at Target Center and give up on this whole NBA thing.

That’s why Taylor needs to get it right this time. He needs to hire the right president of basketball operations, he needs to get the right coach and those people need to get the right players surrounding Towns. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that Wiggins shouldn’t be one of those players. He simply isn’t good enough and he certainly isn’t driven enough.

Actually, I lied, there is one more thing I can tell you. As important as these hires are going to be, history tells us there is an excellent chance Taylor won’t get it right again.


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