Saun­ders fam­ily presses on with Wolves af­ter Flip’s death

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jon Krawczyn­ski

The easy thing for the Saun­ders fam­ily to do would have been to walk away.

Flip Saun­ders’ fin­ger­prints are all over the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves — from the play­ers on the ros­ter to the new score­board that hangs in the arena. One year af­ter his death, his pres­ence is still a strong one at Tar­get Cen­ter, and it would have been un­der­stand­able if his fam­ily wanted to step back from the or­ga­ni­za­tion while griev­ing the loss of their pa­tri­arch.

Ryan Saun­ders could have eas­ily found an­other coach­ing job. He didn’t. He is still here, coach­ing the ros­ter that his fa­ther had such a crit­i­cal role in as­sem­bling. Rachel Saun­ders could have found an­other job in the cor­po­rate world. She didn’t. She’s still here, work­ing as man­ager of team ser­vices for the front of­fice that her fa­ther re­built from the ru­ins of the pre­vi­ous regime. Deb­bie Saun­ders could have re­treated to her home in the Min­neapo­lis sub­urbs, avoid­ing the place her hus­band de­voted so much of his time to restor­ing. She didn’t. She bought four seats just be­hind the Tim­ber­wolves bench so she could be there to watch the young men Flip drafted, traded for and signed con­tinue to grow up in front of her eyes.

“I was ner­vous to go back in there this year be­cause time has passed and life goes on,” Deb­bie Saun­ders told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “The minute I got back in there, it felt right again. It’s ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ent, but some things are the same.”

They are a basketball fam­ily that has en­dured a crush­ing loss. Flip Saun­ders died on Oct. 25, 2015 from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to Hodgkin’s lym­phoma. He was one of Min­nesota’s most beloved sports fig­ures, a gre­gar­i­ous and out­go­ing coach and sales­man who turned one of the NBA’s woe­be­gone fran­chises into a fam­ily recla­ma­tion project. His death rocked the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the league. It shook the foun­da­tion of a tight-knit fam­ily that in­cludes daugh­ters Kim­berly and Mindy, who sit right next to their mother at the games to this day. A year later, they have en­dured many of the firsts that make mov­ing on so dif­fi­cult.

“This year has been a strug­gle,” Deb­bie Saun­ders said. “I don’t know. I guess I thought I would be a lot fur­ther along than this with han­dling it. But it has been a strug­gle.”

But one thing is clear: the Saun­ders fam­ily isn’t go­ing any­where. Still grap­pling with the loss of his fa­ther and best friend, Ryan Saun­ders po­litely de­clined to com­ment for this story. But he did say in July that leav­ing Min­nesota never crossed his mind “be­cause I be­lieve in this or­ga­ni­za­tion. I be­lieve in the guys. My re­la­tion­ship with the play­ers is great. Min­nesota’s home. Fam­ily’s here. Fi­ancee’s here. Min­nesota’s home.” He is work­ing un­der Tom Thi­bodeau now, pro­vid­ing some con­ti­nu­ity for the new head coach. Thi­bodeau was one of the most sought-af­ter coaches in the league this sum­mer, and he jumped at the chance to come to Min­nesota in large part to the promis­ing young core that Flip and his staff as­sem­bled.

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