MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Memphis Grizzlies front office in turmoil, the Minnesota Timberwolves are strongly considering hiring coach Dave Joerger away to take over the team in his home state.
The Timberwolves received permission from the Grizzlies to interview Joerger and will meet with him on Thursday, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The people requested anonymity because the Timberwolves are not commenting publicly on their coaching candidates, but all indications were that Joerger was in the driver's seat to replace the retired Rick Adelman.
Joerger, who is from Staples, Minnesota, and went to college at Division-II Minnesota State, Moorhead, went 50-32 in his first season as Grizzlies coach. After a rough start while the team transitioned from coaching veteran Lionel Hollins to the first-timer Joerger, the Grizzlies pulled together, overcame several injuries to key players and surged to the seventh seed in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
But after pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games before losing in the first round, owner Robert Pera made the surprising decision to overhaul the front office. He fired CEO Jason Levien and director of player personnel Stu Lash, two moves that immediately called into question Joerger's job security.
Joerger goes way back with Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders. As a young coach trying to make his way up the ladder, Joerger came to watch Saunders, who coached the Timberwolves from 1995-2005, run practices. The two formed a mutual respect which lasts to this day.
"The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota ... and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard," Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.
Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn't see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.
"He's just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon," said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while Pera restructures the front office.
Saunders, who coached in the CBA before breaking into the NBA, has long had an affinity for coaches who had to grind it out in the minor leagues, believing they learn not only how to coach, but to run an organization. Joerger won championships in the NBDL, the International Basketball Association and the CBA before joining the Grizzlies as an assistant to Hollins.
Joerger's experience as a head coach last year with the Grizzlies helps him fit the profile Saunders is looking for in a replacement for Adelman. Saunders has said he wants a proven coach who knows the demands of running an NBA team, including handling questions from the media.
The latter qualification is of particular concern for the Wolves right now with star forward Kevin Love set to opt out of his contract after next season. The Wolves are considering all their options with Love, including potentially trading him this summer.
If the Wolves do not trade Love, they will head into the season with one of the major story lines in the league, one sure to draw attention from media all across the country. That's part of the reason Saunders is reluctant to turn over the keys to a first-time head coach.
The Timberwolves opening has also been linked to Hollins and college coaching stars such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Florida's Billy Donovan and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. Saunders has yet to offer the job to anyone, but it is believed that the uncertainty surrounding Love has caused some of the more high profile names on Saunders' list to give tepid responses to inquiries.
The situation with Love in Minnesota pales in comparison to the upheaval in Memphis, and the opportunity to bring his family back to his home state could be enough to convince Joerger to make the move from a team that was in the Western Conference finals two years ago to a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004.