MINNEAPOLIS – The post-Tom Thibodeau era is officially underway as the Minnesota Timberwolves practiced for the first time with Ryan Saunders in charge on Monday afternoon. A tumultuous season for the Wolves became more controversy-ridden with the firing.
The Wolves have faced more dysfunction than the average NBA team this season, through nobody’s fault but their own. The Jimmy Butler fiasco could have been prevented, but once that happened, this couldn’t.
Now it’s Saunders’ team. Whether the 32-year-old is ready to be the head coach of an NBA team is yet to be seen. He’s the youngest NBA coach in the NBA in over 40 years, according to Elias Sports. He’s in a very unique spot. This is something that Saunders has been preparing for his entire life. His late father, Flip, is a legacy figure in this organization, and that’s who Ryan learned from.
The relationship he has with many of the players is unique. He may be the one that can get the most out of guys such as Andrew Wiggins and Tyus Jones. He’s known them their entire professional careers. Saunders has been around the league for his entire life, and this was his 10th season as an assistant coach in the NBA, with a few of them under his father’s guidance.
“I think everybody knows this is special,” Saunders said. “This is special, for a number of reasons. In the current moment it’s special because of the players.”
Time will tell if the Wolves have found the guy for the future in Saunders, but he’s getting his opportunity. Minnesota has 42 games remaining in the season, and that’s certainly a large sample size to determine if Saunders has what it takes to retain the position.
“We’re excited for Ryan Saunders to have his chance as the coach,” general manager Scott Layden said. “I think that he’s a certainly very talented coach. I think he’s someone that has been preparing for this his whole life.”
Layden was asked a very fair question about his job security moving forward. Whether or not he’s the general manager moving forward is a question that will have to be answered at the end of the season – if not sooner – but there’s no doubt his seat is warm following everything that’s gone on.
He responded to the job security question by posing that the reporters should have to worry about their job security. It was odd and rather tone-deaf. That moment was one that Layden was likely trying to lighten the mood, but it did the exact opposite. It made what was already a rather awkward media gathering even worse.
Whether Layden is around the Wolves for the future is up for debate, but there’s no question that no matter how long he lasts, the media is going to outlast him.
Derrick Rose’s comments
Rose was certainly the most hurt by the news of the three players – along with Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns – that met with the media on Monday. That much is understandable. Much of Rose’s career has been linked to Thibodeau. Those two achieved a relatively high level of success in Chicago together before Thibodeau helped to revitalize Rose’s career this season in Minnesota.
He was shocked by the news. He views Thibodeau as someone that helped saved him from being out of the NBA last February following the Cleveland Cavaliers trading him and the Utah Jazz cutting him prior to him ever reporting. That was one of the lowest points of Rose’s career, and it’s understandable that he’s upset that his guy was relieved of his duties.
With that said, Rose expects to keep going at the same rate he has been at this season. He’s been great for the Wolves this year, and a big reason as to why they’re near the .500 mark on the season. Rose has experienced a career revitalization and wants to keep that up.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself. Thibs was just the coach that believed in me. I mean he jump-started my career again, and for that I’ll always be thankful,” Rose said. “For everybody that thinks it’s gonna stop, kill yourself. It’s not.”
However, his comments went too far. It’s one thing to have confidence in one’s self, but using the phrasing of “kill yourself” as Rose did is not appropriate. Yes, Rose apologized for his phrasing on Twitter later in the day, but it’s still inexcusable.
I messed up by using the slang term “kill yourself” today in response to a question about whether I can continue to perform without coach Thibs. I did not mean it literally and regret using it so I apologize.
— Derrick Rose (@drose) January 7, 2019
Aside from that, Rose had a few more interesting things to say, and the one of the most note may have been that he plans on staying in Minnesota not only for the remainder of this season – he has no-trade rights – and hopes to re-sign with the Wolves in the off-season as well.
Offense moving faster
The other notable thing that Rose added in was that he thinks the Wolves will play with a faster pace on the offensive end of the floor.
“That was one thing he put an emphasis on today. He wanted a faster pace,” Rose said of what stylistic changes might be seen on the offensive end of the floor with Saunders in charge. “Offensively, he wants a faster tempo.”
This was one of the few basketball-centric things to be revealed on Monday afternoon. Rose added in that the defensive end of the floor wasn’t much of the focus on the practice floor that day, either.
This year under Thibodeau the Wolves ranked 12th in the league in pace with 101.12 possessions per game. That number could certainly rise higher under Saunders. There’s no question that the Wolves have the personnel to do it, whether or not they’ll be able to execute that strategy at a high enough level is yet to be seen.