Pop culture time capsule: How the Flip Saunders era with the Timberwolves reminds us of Soundgarden

Posted on November 12th, 2008 – 11:55 AM
By Michael Rand

flip.JPGThis is the latest installment of Pop Culture Time Capsule, during which we take two totally different subjects — one from the world of music, movies, etc., and one from sports — and attempt to link them. Today’s subjects: the Flip Saunders era with the Timberwolves and Soundgarden.

1. Hindsight: Soundgarden was never your favorite band, and Flip was never the best coach of the best team. But when you look back on it, you get the same feeling: hey, they were pretty good. Do you realize the Wolves made the playoffs eight consecutive years? Yeah, they lost in the first round the first seven times, but just getting there looks so much better in retrospect. They reached an apex that was very good but not great (2003-04). Likewise, you look back at Soundgarden’s catalog: Black Hole Sun, Spoonman, Pretty Noose, Outshined, Rusty Cage, etc., and one word comes to mind: solid. The body of work in both cases added up to more than the sum of any individual game, season, song or CD.

2. Humble beginnings: Soundgarden struggled through an early metal influence before finding its niche as a dark but instrumental grunge band. Saunders worked his way up through the ranks, starting his coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College.

3. Never feeling cheated: Here’s the big one. Watching Saunders coach, you didn’t always agree with his philosophies, but you never felt like he was cheating you. He tried to wring every point out of every game and get every ounce of possible effort out of every situation. That is something to admire. Soundgarden wrote songs the same way. There were no throwaways. None of them might be in your top 50 songs of all-time, but they all felt like they were constructed with reason, purpose and effort.

4. The breakup: Soundgarden disbanded in 1997 over creative differences that are certain to arise when a band has been together for so long (13 years). Lead singer Chris Cornell wanted to go a softer direction; other band mates wanted to cling to the grunge/guitar roots. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil was quoted as saying, “It was pretty obvious from everybody’s general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction.” That quote could pretty much sum up the 2004-05 Timberwolves season. Kevin McHale wanted the team to get tougher. Cassell and Sprewell were pests. It all fell apart, and Saunders became the scapegoat. Things have been great since then.

5. Post-breakup success that never quite felt right: Saunders went to Detroit and was good but not great with a talented, veteran team. He always seemed out of place with the Pistons. Cornell had solo success and some acclaim with the band Audioslave, where he teamed with veterans from Rage Against The Machine.

6. Reunion? Would make sense in some ways, in both cases, but in the end probably isn’t the right answer.

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