Time is running out before Kevin Love can opt out of his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team only has one more season to convince him to stay. As far as that's concerned, likely nothing will be a bigger determining factor than whom it hires as head coach.
Former coach Rick Adelman recently retired, leaving a vacancy on Minnesota's bench. Since that time, numerous names have been speculated on to replace him, but up until now, nothing is set in stone.
What is clear, however, is that whomever Minnesota brings in must be able to get results. Love just finished up his sixth season with the team, and he's yet to appear in the postseason. While there are no guarantees that a playoff berth would be enough to entice the power forward to stay, it'd certainly be a step in the right direction.
As far as coaches with proven track records, there are a few out there whom the team should target. There are also a couple options with name recognition who may help prompt Love to stay in Minnesota.
Of those, here are the best coaching options to keep Love with the Timberwolves.
Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy may not be the sexiest name out there, but the man gets results. That's probably the biggest factor in keeping Love around.
In his seven years as an NBA head coach (technically he coached for eight years, although the Miami Heat removed him 21 games into the 2005-06 season), Van Gundy has never posted a season winning percentage worse than .512. Guess how many times the T-Wolves have had a winning percentage of at least .512 since Love joined the team?
That's right—it hasn't happened yet.
Part of what makes Van Gundy a good fit is the effectiveness his teams display on both sides of the ball. During those seven seasons as head coach, his squads finished in the top 10 in defensive rating six times. They were also good on offense, finishing in the top 10 in offensive rating three times.
Not to mention Van Gundy has had success working with versatile power forwards like Love throughout his career. He had Rashard Lewis playing effectively for him in Orlando before the wheels fell off. Ryan Anderson developed under his watch. In Miami, he had Lamar Odom playing at a high level prior to the team's trade for Shaquille O'Neal.
The only potential issue to hiring Van Gundy is that he's reportedly not interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. However, just because Spears says he's not interested, it doesn't mean the T-Wolves shouldn't at least ask.
If he accepts, there could be far worse options.
Flip Saunders already works in Minnesota's front office as the general manager, but that doesn't preclude him from coaching the team. In fact, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN, many people expect just that to happen.
Saunders has a few things going for him, most notably his prior success coaching the Timberwolves.
He coached the team for 10 seasons, posting a record above .500 seven times and qualifying for the postseason eight times. Incidentally, those eight postseason appearances happen to be the only times Minnesota has qualified.
Saunders also went on to lead the Detroit Pistons to the postseason three times after leaving Minnesota.
Beyond his track record of success, Saunders coached Kevin Garnett for years. While Love and Garnett certainly aren't carbon copies of each other, both are power forwards and both have been focal points on their respective teams.
Also worth considering is that Love is familiar with Saunders. The two have spent the last year working together in Minnesota. And unlike David Khan, Saunders isn't the one who disrespected the star forward by refusing to give him the full five-year maximum extension.
Saunders may not be the most exciting name, but with his track record and familiarity with Love and the franchise, he'd be a good option for the job. And unlike Van Gundy, he's given every indication that it's a position he's interested in.
The last time we saw George Karl coaching an NBA team, he won last season's NBA Coach of the Year honors after leading the Denver Nuggets to a 57-25 record. Granted, Karl was fired following that season, but it's less of an indication of the job he did than an impatient front office.
In fact, one year after leading Denver to that 57-25 record, his successor, Brian Shaw, captained the team to a 36-46 record—a 21-game decrease—and the Nuggets missed the postseason for the first time since prior to Karl's arrival.
As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley points out, Karl could work well with what the T-Wolves have to offer:
One of the game's great offensive minds—the Nuggets finished eighth or better in offensive efficiency during six of Karl's eight full seasons at the helm—he could work wonders with Minnesota's high-powered attack.
He likes to run at every opportunity, and Love's top-shelf outlet passing could be even more effective in Karl's run-and-gun scheme.
Not to mention Karl's teams have qualified for the playoffs in 20 of his last 21 years coaching. You could point out that he's yet to get over the hump and win a championship, which is true. However, in this situation it's somewhat irrelevant.
The T-Wolves haven't even been able to get into the playoffs, and in order to win a championship, you have to get to the postseason first.
Since Minnesota probably has to make the playoffs to get Love to stick around, there aren't many options better than Karl.
There are some bigger names from the college ranks who could be brought in to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There's Billy Donovan, who coaches the Florida Gators and toyed a few years ago with joining the Orlando Magic as head coach before deciding to stay at Florida. Fred Hoiberg, the Iowa State head coach, played for the T-Wolves and has had success as a coach in the college ranks. There's also Tom Izzo, the longtime leader of Michigan State.
The problem with bringing in one of those coaches is a lack of experience coaching at the NBA level. That's not to say past experience in the NBA is a determining factor in success—it isn't. But the T-Wolves aren't in a situation where they're rebuilding. They need to win now.
Based on what Love told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski in December 2012, getting to the playoffs will be a huge contributing factor in his decision.
"I haven't been in the playoffs yet," Love says. "I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs – or it's been one playoff berth – well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.' "
Another playoff-less year is behind Love and the Timberwolves. With only one year remaining until he can opt out, Love and the Timberwolves getting to the postseason is a necessity. Minnesota can't concern itself with the big picture. There will be plenty of time for that if Love leaves.
This coaching hire is about success in 2014-15, and the best chance the team will have at achieving that success is adding an experienced coach with a proven track record.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
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