Minnesota Timberwolves Owner Glen Taylor unfortunately kept his word — he said earlier this year that he would make a coaching decision after season’s end.
Taylor must’ve used a synchronized clock Wednesday, because it wasn’t an hour after Minnesota’s historic scoring night — a 144-point winning effort — before he canned interim coach Sam Mitchell.
Mitchell, unfortunately, becomes only the second Wolves coach to get a phone call, informing him his job is over —Dwane Casey, now in Toronto, was unceremoniously given the boot while on the road.
We nonetheless unabashedly root for Black coaches simply because their second chances aren’t a given. Sadly, what happened on ‘Black Wednesday night’ is another example.
Black coaches put in the work developing the players, getting them to respectability level, but rarely get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. More often than not a White coach is brought in to take over and gets the spoils.
Mitchell took over after the sudden death of Flip Saunders. He didn’t have a chance to design a training camp, which usually takes place during the weeks after the draft. He had to put in a system on the fly.
But this year’s Wolves, even though they didn’t make the playoffs for the 11th straight season since 2003-04, finished a plus-13 in wins over a year ago, from 16-66 to 29-53.
“I understand how the [home] fans feel, but it is not those guys in the locker room fault. We weren’t here the past 12 years. We are trying to turn things around,” noted the now former Wolves coach Monday, in what can now be seen as his lame-duck address to the local media. “We [as coaches] can’t let them think it is OK [to lose]. We understand it. Our job is to teach them how to push through it, and continue to be demanding.
“Pseudo-Latin” names often were used to quickly describe both the Road Runner (“Acceleratii Incredibus”) and his nemeses Wile E. Coyote (“Eatibus Anythingus”) in those Looney Tunes cartoons.
For many of the local mostly-White media, the pseudo- Latin name should be ‘Yellow-back Reporterus’ — those who talk about coaches, especially the non-Whites, but won’t say the same to their face. Those who talk like they’ve been NBA coaches and know exactly what it takes to run a team, but when the coach appears, they instead ask milquetoast-like questions.
“Our job as coaches is not to make it OK for them to have a night like this,” responded Mitchell after the April 11 loss to Houston.
Minnesota has had some impressive wins this season. They went 3-0 on its final road trip, defeating the playoff-bound Golden State Warriors and Portland, along with Sacramento.
The Wolves have one of the league’s youngest squads in recent memory: the squad averages around four years of NBA experience, and has an average age of 26 years.
“You can see a maturity about them,” observed Houston Interim Coach J.B. Bickerstaff of Minnesota.
“Earlier in the year, they would play well but there could be a three-minute stretch where the youth would kick in, and you could take advantage of it. You watch them now, those lapses aren’t happening.”
“We just don’t have the experience and depth,” admitted Mitchell. “We don’t have depth. We don’t have size. When your starting lineup is a year or two in experience, and your depth behind them is a year or two, it’s tough.
“We get smaller” when the Wolves go to the bench, he pointed out. “The thing that’s hard for me is that we got to keep pushing them.”
Bickerstaff said, “Sam has done a heck of a job with the guys and getting them to play with the intensity, and passion. You can see the difference from where they started and where they are now.”
Like Mitchell, Bickerstaff also was thrusted into an interim NBA head coaching job, this time by a firing. Bickerstaff was named Houston interim head coach on November 18, barely a dozen games into the 2015-16 regular season. Under Bickerstaff since his interim promotion last fall, the Rockets played .500 ball and made the playoffs on the season’s final day Wednesday. They will play Golden State in the first round.
“Every game for us matters. It’s been a challenge,” Bickerstaff told the MSR.
“I think if people give them an honest chance, an honest look from where they were last year and the growth they have this year, it’s clear,” said Mitchell.
Wolves Assistant Coach Sidney Lowe earlier this week told the MSR, “I think it’s because of the program we have. We have a program that we do every day before practice. It’s individual work [with each player]. That stuff helps because we are developing players.
“We don’t talk about getting better next training camp,” continued Lowe. “We want to start getting better now.”
“Those guys and the coaching staff put in a lot of hard work to get this group to where they are,” stated Mitchell. “Give those guys credit for putting the work in. Those guys have given the organization a future.”
“He loves them hard,” admitted Lowe regarding Mitchell. “He coaches them hard and loves them hard.”
“We’re always disappointed when we lose,” said Mitchell. “We as coaches have not given them excuses. And to their credit, they haven’t looked [for any]. When they took it on the chin, they came back and fought. What we’ve done this year, and what we asked these guys to do, and how hard we pushed them — to their credit, they responded. So we are proud of them.”
Now sadly, he won’t get the chance to see them progress further. And the Yellow-back Reporterus, many of whom are culturally conditioned, are already pushing Taylor to hire a “more seasoned coach” [transition – White], especially now that Minnesota seemingly has been transformed from dead end to destination.
“No one talked about the future of the Timberwolves at the start of the season,” recalled Mitchell. “No one talked about this as a good job. No one. It’s amazing to me that all of a sudden, it’s a good job. I thought it was a good job when we started the season [but] I did not see one article.”
“Sam did a solid job,” said ESPN NBA Analyst Jalen Rose on Mitchell. He told the MSR Thursday during a media call that the team’s young talent improved under him.
“That’s the nature of our business,” said Lowe, a former NBA head coach himself. “They [the media] are going to pull for you and some are going to go at you no matter what. [But] if you’re realistic, if you get credit for the losses, you should get credit for the wins and the players getting better.”
Although Houston is an underdog to favorite Golden State, we still are rooting for Bickerstaff. The same for the other league Black coaches.
We always root for Black coaches, whether interim or permanent.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.