It only took the mention of Flip Saunders' name for Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau to go all "six degrees of sentimentality."
In a pregame ceremony at Target Center on Thursday, Saunders — who coached the Timberwolves for 11 seasons in two stints — will be honored. With some former players — including current Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen — in the house, a banner will be raised to the rafters in the arena.
And it's only right, said Thibodeau, whose connection to Saunders goes way back. "We're thrilled we're going to be honoring him," he said. "For what he's meant to the organization, the city. He's synonymous with Minnesota basketball."
Thibodeau was an original Wolves assistant, working for Bill Musselman, who was Saunders' coach at the University of Minnesota.
"You think about that connection, to get the organization off the ground the way he did, and to come back and get it going again? You think Minnesota basketball you think of him, Bill, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett," Thibodeau said.
Fans attending "Flip Saunders Night" will see the ceremony, the lifting of the banner and will receive a commemorative coin; Saunders used to make a coin for each season, giving it to players, members of the organization and fans. Special sneakers created for each player will be auctioned off postgame to benefit the Flip Saunders Legacy Fund.
It promises to be an emotional event, considering his son, Ryan, is still a Wolves assistant; Flip's daughter, Rachel, works in the organization and his wife, Debbie, still attends most games.
"It's big to see the love they still have for the organization," Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. "I'm very honored to call [Flip] a friend."
Tyus Jones grew up in Minnesota and became a Timberwolves fan at an early age. So the point guard, perhaps more than any of his teammates, recognizes the scope of Saunders' legacy.
"Flip was a big part of this franchise," said Jones, who starred at Apple Valley High School before playing one season at Duke. After Jones was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Wolves, Saunders went across the street from Target Center that night to visit the Jones family and give them the news firsthand.
"It was crazy, it was crazy," Jones said. "I still remember it vividly and will for the rest of my life. One of the biggest moments in my lift, a very sentimental moment for me, something I'll never forget."
"Flip was a guy, when you talked to him every day, you could take away something from every conversation you had. I take a lot just from the small things that he passed on to me, things I'll never forget."
In his second stint with the team in 2013-15, Saunders engineered the trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland for forward Andrew Wiggins.
In three drafts during that stretch, Saunders selected or made draft-night trades for Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng in the first round in 2013, Zach LaVine in 2014 and Towns (first overall) and Jones (No. 24) in 2015.
Wiggins said he has kept the coins Saunders gave to him.
"This is all because of Flip," Wiggins said. "You know, everything. He brought some key pieces here. This is his vision, so everything here is because of him."
•Thibodeau reiterated his desire that Garnett will, one day, receive a similar tribute. "We're hopeful that, at some point, we can recognize him in a way that he should be recognized," he said.
•Having identified two significant defensive lapses in Tuesday's 126-108 loss to Houston — including allowing the Rockets to hit four consecutive fourth-quarter three-pointers after the Wolves had pulled within four points — the Wolves worked hard on defense during Wednesday's practice. Thibodeau said he saw some deviation from the game plan during that stretch. "We had breakdowns there that we have to minimalize," he said. "The margin of error against them, obviously, is very small."
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.