MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - With the NBA regular season days away, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to practice while grappling with the death of head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, who passed away on Sunday.
"What we have here is a family, and we lost our dad yesterday," Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said while addressing the media after Monday's practice.
Touching tributes populated social media into Monday, and coaches league-wide will wear a pin on their lapels to commemorate the coach. But more than a coach, more than an iconic face within the organization, Saunders is being remembered as a dad, the No. 1 fan of his daughters' Gopher dance team, a husband, a caring friend.
Saunders announced in August he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and officially took a leave of absence from the team in September. Assistant coach Sam Mitchell was named interim head coach, a role he'll continue to fill while the team grieves and prepares to hit the road for their first regular season game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
"We're hurting. We lost our point guard. We lost the person who runs this whole machine," rookie Karl-Anthony Towns said.
Saunders is survived by his wife, Debbie, his daughters Mindy, Rachel and Kim, and son and Wolves assistant coach, Ryan.
Saunders was a four-year starter at the University of Minnesota, playing alongside Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale. He first joined the Timberwolves organization in 1995 as general manager, working under McHale, and was named head coach that December replacing Bill Blair. He also coached the Detroit Pistons from 2005-2008 and the Washington Wizards from 2009-2012 before coming back to Minnesota in a dual role as president of basketball operations and head coach.