MINNEAPOLIS — Flip Saunders had been hospitalized for more than a month, with complications from Hodgkin's lymphoma leaving him unable to communicate with the Timberwolves team he rebuilt from the ground up.
Each day that went by without a positive report on their leader raised the concern. And still, each day, many in the organization expected Saunders to burst through the doors on the shiny new $25 million practice facility he helped design, blow his whistle and start coaching the roster he assembled with the staff he hired.
"I'm going to keep thinking about that moment," point guard Ricky Rubio said Monday, one day after Saunders died at the age of 60 due to complications from the cancer. "I think some of us can't believe that he passed away. Still waiting for him any moment to come and lead us where he wanted us to be."
The Timberwolves reconvened at practice with the loss of the organizational architect still weighing heavy on their hearts. Saunders was everything to these Timberwolves — the president of basketball operations, a minority owner and head coach, another son to owner Glen Taylor and another father to many players.
"His imprint is on this building," interim coach Sam Mitchell said, looking at the practice facility that opened this summer. "It's on the Target Center. Every one of us, from players to coaches to a lot of guys in basketball ops, they were hand-picked by Flip. He wanted us here. He wanted what he called his Timberwolves family around him, people that he had confidence in, that he trusted. So that's tough because we all came back because of him."
LEBRON READY: His lower back feeling better, his body refreshed, LeBron James declared himself ready for his 13th NBA season. After sitting out nearly two weeks since getting an anti-inflammatory injection, James was able to fully participate in the Cavaliers' practice for the second straight day and said he'll play tonight in the season opener.
KOBE NEARLY READY: Kobe Bryant is still expected to play in the Lakers' season opener Wednesday after being slowed by a bruised leg for two weeks. Also, Metta World Peace, 35, earned a spot on the Lakers' roster, punctuating his comeback attempt after 19 months out of the league.
HAWKS: Kent Bazemore will be in the starting lineup for tonight's season opener. The 6-foot-5 swingman started all preseason at small forward, which belonged to DeMarre Carroll the past two years.
TRAIL BLAZERS: Forward Al-Farouq Aminu (hamstring) may not be ready for Wednesday's season opener.