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At this point, Flip is better off than Dwane

MINNEAPOLIS - Flip Saunders thought he had a few problems with the Detroit Pistons. It could be worse. He still could be coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves.

MINNEAPOLIS - Flip Saunders thought he had a few problems with the Detroit Pistons. It could be worse. He still could be coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Now that Eddie Griffin's five-game NBA suspension for violating the league's drug policy is expired, the Wolves will soon send him packing.

They have offered a buyout. If Griffin and his agent turn it down, the case will wind up in arbitration. And put it this way: The Wolves might have some information to produce at such a hearing.

Another issue surfaced Friday night that could have a much larger impact on where this season is headed. Ricky Davis walked off the court with 8½ minutes left in the third quarter. This came after he threw a sloppy pass and coach Dwane Casey sent rookie Randy Foye into the game to replace Davis.

Later, Casey would say it was his decision not to play Davis in the second half - or two overtimes - because of a "lack of focus."

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For sure, Davis made such a decision easy for Casey, after leaving the court and walking through a tunnel.

He was retrieved soon thereafter, and sat on the bench for the rest of the long night. Saturday, the Wolves handed Davis a one-game suspension, which will be served today when Minnesota plays at Phoenix.

The Wolves also lost Kevin Garnett to a bout of stupidity with 5:18 remaining in regulation of Saturday night's game. Detroit's Antonio McDyess had been called for a technical foul for pushing Mark Madsen to the floor.

Crashing to the floor is basically what Madsen does for a living, but Garnett decided to go after McDyess. He would end up throwing the basketball at the Pistons veteran and was ejected.

So was McDyess, but that tradeoff - the Wolves' superstar for one of Detroit's replaceable big men - eventually would help doom the home team.

The Pistons missed numerous open jumpers in the late stages of regulation before heating up in extra time. The final was 104-98.

Now the Wolves have lost two in a row at home and are headed west for five games in seven nights, starting with Phoenix and ending against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Davis was in civilian clothes and headed down the corridor within three minutes of the Wolves' arrival in the home locker room.

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A reporter attempted to get him to poke his head from behind the tinted windows of his gigantic SUV, but that didn't happen.

Back down the corridor, McDyess was hinting that Garnett could be headed for a suspension, saying it was his understanding that throwing the basketball was the equivalent of throwing a punch.

Saunders was asked if he thought what took place could lead to a suspension for either player, and said: "No. Not at all. I can't see that happening."

The odd thing about the game winding up with Garnett ejected and Davis pouting was this: It was supposed to be Saunders who was dealing with dissension problems, not Casey.

The big story in Detroit on Thursday centered on a report by espn.com 's Chris Sheridan when he wrote that "hate" was the proper word to describe Rasheed Wallace's feeling toward Saunders.

Wallace shouted at Sheridan at Thursday's practice, saying: "Have you ever heard me use the word 'hate?'"

Saunders told the Detroit media: "I don't think he hates me. That's a pretty strong statement."

Flip had been the star attraction at Friday morning's Detroit shootaround. The reasons for this interest from Twin Cities television stations and reporters were the rumors that Saunders could wind up as the Gophers basketball coach.

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He took a few questions on this possibility, offering comments that duplicated what he had to say when the Wolves and the Pistons played four days earlier in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Yes, Flip cares about the Gophers as an alumnus and he wants the program to be healthy. But he also has a job and his goal is to win a championship ring with the Pistons.

Could the Pistons' mediocre start and his alleged difficulty with Wallace have Saunders on the brink of being fired - thus making him available to the Gophers?

Doubtful. The Pistons (22-16) aren't exactly coming apart at the seams and he has two more years and $9 million left on his contract.

All we know for sure about Flip's situation is that, as of the third quarter Friday, he has fewer headaches than the gentleman who now holds his previous job - Mr. Dwane Casey.

Reusse writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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