Flip Saunders: Sam Cassell dance cost Timberwolves a championship

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The NBA hates the Sam Cassell dance. The league just fined Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin for gesturing about his cojones, and it will surely fine any other player who tries the move.

I guess the NBA believes the dance gives it a bad image or something.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the dance has harmed him more than Martin’s coach, Flip Saunders, who also coached the 2004 Timberwolves.

In 2004, Minnesota started Cassell at point guard, and he competed through a back injury during a second-round win over the Kings. In that series, he also made famous the dance that now often bears his name.

Cassell struggled through the conference finals, averaging 9.3 points and 2.5 assists in 16.0 minutes per game – down from 19.8 and 7.3 in 35.0 during the regular season. Despite holding the No. 1 seed, the Timberwolves lost to a Lakers team featuring Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Paton.

To Saunders, Minnesota’s conference-finals loss and Cassell’s second round-dance are connected.

Kent Youngblood of the StarTribune:

Saunders takes a rather dim view of the gesture as well, but he has his reasons. According to Saunders, Cassell injured his hip doing that gesture that night, and was injured and ineffective in the conference finals, which the Wolves lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

“We lost a championship by that,” Saunders said. “When [Cassell] did that he had an avulsion fracture in his hip. … So, from that perspective, I’ve always been against that type of thing.”

Maybe Minnesota would have beaten the Lakers with a healthy Cassell. Maybe.

But Cassell was already injured before he ever danced, so at most, the celebration only aggravated an injury. When you choose to rely on a 34-year-old point guard, you choose to accept a larger injury risk.

Besides, even if the Timberwolves slid past the Lakers, they weren’t going to beat the Pistons in the Finals. Detroit demolished the Lakers in five games, earning three blowouts and another comfortable win with one overtime loss mixed in.

If Saunders wants to claim Cassell’s dance cost his team a conference title, fine. There’s a plausible case to be made.

But to claim the Timberwolves would have won the NBA championship? That’s too much revisionist history for me.