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T-Wolves name Sam Mitchell interim coach as Flip Saunders fights cancer

The Minnesota Timberwolves promoted assistant Sam Mitchell to interim head coach while president and coach Flip Saunders battles cancer.
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The Minnesota Timberwolves promoted assistant Sam Mitchell to interim head coach while president of basketball operations and coach Flip Saunders battles cancer, the team announced on Friday.

Timberwolves general manager Milt Newton will also assume “an increased role in the day-to-day and strategic operations of the basketball department,” the team said.

Last month, the T-Wolves announced Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would continue his duties with the team “uninterrupted.” In the statement released on Aug. 11, the team said Saunders, 60, was undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for what doctors called a “very treatable and curable form of cancer.”

On Friday, the Timberwolves said Saunders had completed treatments, but recently experienced complications and was admitted to a local area hospital where he still remains while undergoing further testing and treatment.

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“First and foremost, my immediate concern is for the Saunders family and the health of Flip,” Timberwolves majority owner Glen Taylor said. “Our priority right now is for him to regain his strength so that he can be 100 percent when he returns to his Timberwolves duties. In the interim, I remain confident in the direction of our team. I have known Sam Mitchell for a number of years, back to his playing days in Minnesota. He is a former NBA Head Coach of the Year. I have no doubt he will get the most out of our players and will continue to serve as a great mentor to our young and talented players as interim head coach.”

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Saunders’s family also released a statement on Friday.

Saunders returned for a second coaching stint with the T-Wolves in June 2014 and coached Minnesota to a 16–66 record last season. He first spent 10 seasons from 1995 to 2005 as the T-Wolves’ head coach before leaving for stints with the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. Over 17 seasons, Saunders holds a 427–392 record in regular-season games and 17–30 mark in the playoffs.

Mitchell, the 2007 NBA Coach of the Year with the Raptors, coached Toronto to a 156–189 record over five seasons. As a player, he spent 10 seasons with the Timberwolves.

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On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that although there is “hope” that Saunders will return to coach this season, Mitchell is expected to be the interim head coach “no less than half the season.”

Mike Fiammetta