Flip Saunders angry after Jazz broadcasters accused Timberwolves of trying to lose on purpose

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The Timberwolves had only seven players available for Monday night’s contest against the Jazz, and that was a blatant attempt at tanking, at least as far as Utah’s television broadcast crew was concerned.

Rookie sensations Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine played heavy minutes, but so did guys most fans have never heard of in Adreian Payne, Lorenzo Brown and Sean Kilpatrick. The rest of the more well-known Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett included, were all out due to injury.

Minnesota won in overtime anyway, behind a 27-point performance from LaVine which included a couple of huge threes down the stretch. But once word of what the broadcasters said on the air reached Flip Saunders, he was in no mood to celebrate.

From Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

Instead of being in a celebratory mood, he was incensed after he returned to a joyous locker room and found what he said were 25 text messages informing him of comments made by Utah’s television broadcast earlier in the game. …

Jazz announcers said, to paraphrase, that teams purposely losing games to improve draft lottery odds by dressing only seven available players is bad for the league, bad for fans who pay good money to see Kevin Garnett and the league needs to do something about it. …

“That’s totally irresponsible, we’re not tanking games,” Saunders said. “If that’s so, then [Utah] got beat by a team who was tanking. … We’re playing to win. Our guys are out there: We won two games ago at New York, we lost in the fourth quarter against Charlotte last night. We’re not tanking games. It is irresponsible for them to go on TV saying that. If you work at ESPN, you get fired for saying stuff like that.”

Only Saunders and the Minnesota training staff know the extent of his players’ injuries, but the reality is that he wouldn’t need to fake their status.

Plenty of teams are resting healthy stars these days for various reasons, and Saunders could do so whenever he wanted, publicly and without penalty, even under the guise of wanting to develop his young players by giving them the bulk of the available minutes.

It’s worth reminding that tanking is an organizational decision to field the least talented lineup possible, and that the players and coaches who are involved in the games are never trying to lose on purpose. The Jazz broadcast crew may have believed the former was true, even as the latter was evident once the game was finished.