NBA: Saunders succumbs to cancer

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Flip Saunders, the president of basketball operations and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, succumbed to cancer at age 60.

This was the sad announcement that came from the team Sunday.

“It is with extreme sadness that the Minnesota Timberwolves today learned that Phil “Flip” Saunders, who served as the team’s President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach, in addition to being a minority owner of the team, passed away today at age 60,” the team said in a statement.

A veteran of 17 NBA seasons with a career record of 654-592, Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, last June with doctors calling it “treatable and curable”.

He took a leave of absence from the team in September after experiencing complications from his treatments including chemotherapy. Saunders had been confined in the hospital for over a month.

“Flip was a symbol of strength, compassion, and dignity for our organization,” team owner Glen Taylor expressed in his statement. “He was a shining example of what a true leader should be, defined by his integrity and kindness to all he encountered.

Sam Mitchell has been named interim head coach and GM Milt Newton is heading the team’s personnel department.

Saunders called the shots for the Wolves for 11 seasons in two separate stints. He also coached the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.

But his best days as a bench tactician came in Minnesota, where he tutored and mentored the towering Kevin Garnett from a teenager who jumped straight from high school to the NBA in 1995 and helped turn the woeful Wolves into a contender who made eight playoff appearances in a row.

When he was let go by Minnesota in 2005, Saunders then headed to the Pistons one season later and steered Detroit to the conference finals thrice.

He later on moved to Washington where he coached for three seasons before returning to the Wolves bench in 2013 as team president and minority owner. Saunders once again took the coaching reins last season to lead a major rebuilding of a team that finished at 16-66.

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