It seemed that it was imminent that Dave Joerger was set to become the next coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Reports began to surface that the job was Joerger’s to lose and that an announcement could come at any day. This was in spite of the fact that Joerger was still under contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, but the teams were supposedly working to get him out of his contract. And then this happened on Sunday night:
Whoa: Dave Joerger, per source, has declined the Timberwolves’ offer and will remain coach in Memphis.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) May 25, 2014
Hold on. Then we got our first plot twist:
ESPN sources say Wolves and Grizz have hit impasse over compensation, prompting Joerger to tell Memphis he’s staying
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 25, 2014
This situation with Joerger and the Grizzlies was strange enough considering that the Grizzlies had just fired CEO Jason Levien the week before. Replacing Joerger would have also meant that the Grizzlies would have had their third coach in three years by the start of next season, which would have been uncharacteristic of an annual 50-win team.
So, what happened? Initially, it sounded as if the Timberwolves were hesitant to give the Grizzlies compensation for a coach they believed Memphis was going to fire anyway. Minnesota needs a coach more than three second round picks, but it made little sense to them to essentially pay for someone they could get for free later on. In fact, the Timberwolves’ leverage was based mostly upon the idea that Joerger was unwanted by Memphis, and if they were to make it known they did want him, that leverage disappeared.
You know those two issues that still had to be worked out–contract and compensation to Mem.? I’m hearing fail-fail on both counts.
— Dan Barreiro (@DanBarreiroKFAN) May 25, 2014
A big reason the compensation never worked out was that Memphis’ asking price raised from a second rounder for the right to swap picks in this year’s draft and cash. Understandably, the Timberwolves balked, but never got around to discussing a contract for Joerger anyway. Joerger is good, young, up-and-coming coach in the league, but that’s a steep price for Minnesota to pay in their position. Considering both sides met for days, this is also a little surprising. Perhaps the Timberwolves thought that they had more time, but at the last minute Grizzlies owner Robert Pera swooped in
Pera called Joerger on Saturday night, re-worked his contract and ultimately brought Joerger back to Memphis for good. According to the Twitter Q&A Pera held, oddly, immediately after the Joerger news broke, Pera was previously uncertain that Joerger wanted to be in Memphis. Furthermore, Pera said that he hadn’t spoken one-on-one with Joerger before, which is odd because Joerger has been there as long as Pera. The Grizzlies owner added that he never had a conversation with Minnesota, but they still would have had given them permission to speak with Joerger since he is under contract. It seems that the Grizzlies are far less dysfunctional than they were a week ago and that this entire situation with Joerger boiled down to an absence in communication. In fact, all of this could have been avoid with a five-minute phone call to make sure that everyone was on the same page, but Memphis came away from this just fine.
If anything, this will serve as a learning experience for the young Grizzlies owner. No matter the relationship in life, you need to communicate effectively. Because they never took the time to sit down before, Joerger felt unwanted by Memphis and Pera felt that Joerger didn’t want to be there. Then they spoke Saturday night and were able to iron things out. Huh. Funny how that works.
As for the Timberwolves, their search will go on. It’s hard to fault Joerger for taking more money to return to a 50-win team rather than a 40-win team that may be losing their best player sooner rather than later. The Kevin Love situation looms large over the Minnesota job opening because a candidate has to decide what they’re really getting themselves into. They could be running a playoff team this season and in a rebuilding phase the next, which may make it difficult to get a veteran coach in place that wants to win now.
Former Timberwolf Sam Mitchell is rumored as a favorite, but it’s also possible they re-visit former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whom they’ve had informal talks with. Yet, the more time passes, the less-likely they are to get the best possible man for the job, which will be critical for the Timberwolves in the coming years. With a good coach in place, the Timberwolves could still have enough in place with a good return on Love to be competitive. If not, they could remain in this perpetual state of rebuilding that the Twin Cities have seen since 2004.
On Sunday night, one saga ended and another resumed. The Grizzlies have appeared to stabilize their situation while the Timberwolves head closer and closer to the draft without a resolution to theirs. No matter how everything plays out, it will be hard to top the drama that these past few days have brought us.