Flip Saunders Interview
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders spoke with InsideHoops.com and other media in Madison Square Garden prior to the start of Wednesday night's Knicks-Wolves matchup.
Question: Have you guys talked about changes in the West, Shaq leaving, the conference opening up a bit?
Flip Saunders: We talked about that earlier. Our big thing was, we needed in the first 30 games to keep our head above water. Our schedule now, we've had up to this point nine or ten back-to-backs and they've always usually been play at home then go play in Toronto, go play in Philadelphia, go play in Indiana, go play a lot of back-to-backs. So we knew that, that we had to keep our heads above water. Shaq, I've always said, is the most dominating player. And whenever you go against him you have to change how you're going to defend so many things; it changes what you'd like to do from a comfort level. And now, how the West is, there are some dynamic teams in phoenix and Seattle, in terms of how they play, opening up the floor. From our standpoint, we've always felt that with Garnett, his ability to be able to guard smaller people, when you play those teams that could be an advantage. I think that's one of the reasons we had success going in and beating Phoenix down there; until they lost the other night in San Antonio I think we were the last team to beat them at their place. So, the West does continue to get stronger and stronger, because the bottom-feeders have gotten better. That's usually what makes a better conference; so when teams go in there, they know they can get beaten on any night. So right now, when you say how much better has the West gotten you have two teams that didn't make the playoffs last year in Seattle and Phoenix, and you have two of the top three records in the West, which makes it a lot more difficult.
Question: Talk about Latrell Sprewell and his first game against the Knicks, back when he was new on the Wolves.
Flip Saunders: I remember the first time we played against Stephon Marbury, he was the same way. He was playing in New Jersey, and he killed us. Anytime a guy comes in, the first time they come in, they're always going to be very emotional, because it's a very emotional situation to play against your ex-team. So, that wasn't just Spree, that was any player who has ever played that was traded or whatever... We looked at the very same situation last week, with Los Angeles and with Miami; that's human nature for players. And once they do that, the second time, it's never the same. The first time, the emotion gets worn out, and they just kind of settle into it.
Question: Do you ever wonder, what if Stephon Marbury had remained with the Wolves and Kevin Garnett all this time?
Flip Saunders: You always have. I think the "what if" is because, at the time, you're talking about two guys who, we compare them to Stockton and Malone. We thought they could be like Stockton and Malone. You had a guy in Garnett that was similar to Karl in his professionalism, everything he did, defense, offense, how he played the game. And then you had a guy in Steph that was so dynamic with the ball. We were a team that ran a lot of pick-and-rolls. So they were very similar. So the "what if" - I think that's why people in Minnesota were hurt, and probably still are. Because I think that no matter what, people are going to say that if those guys had stayed together it might not have taken eight years for us to win a playoff series, and maybe get into the Western conference finals. You can't worry about that, but it's always nice to dream about.