MINNEAPOLIS – If the introduction of Gersson Rosas, the team’s new President of Basketball Operations, was the start of a new era for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday morning was another step in that direction.
The team introduced Ryan Saunders as the 11th full-time head coach in franchise history. Rosas is betting on Saunders being the guy to lead this franchise where it wants to go. The process was one that was legitimate, despite skepticism that it was always going to be Saunders at the end of the day. That was something that Rosas wanted to shut down immediately.
“Fortunately, people in the market know who I am and what I’m about. I would never put individuals in a situation or go through a process that didn’t have purpose,” Rosas said. “They understood. Believe me, we had qualified candidates. We had very good discussions. This was a tough decision, but we made the right choice.”
It’s been clear that one of the favorite phrases for Rosas is ‘action over words.’ It’s been spoken numerous times by the new basketball boss in just his two public engagements with the media. It’s one that’s going to need to be proven with this hire.
Saunders looks great on paper, as do his ideas. The Wolves need to place themselves in the modern NBA. They’ve been stuck in the dark age lately, and it’s felt as if throughout the course of franchise history, the Wolves have always been three years behind the rest of the league. This feels much different than that. It feels like the Wolves are, at the very least, catching up to the rest of the NBA.
Last season Saunders was the interim head coach for the final 42 games of the season, amassing a 17-25 record in those games. It’s not fair to look at his record and judge him. There needs to be a deeper dive, one that takes a look at what his players thought of him and how the culture started to change. The on-court product changed, but it’s hard to change nearly as much as Saunders – or the Wolves – would have liked it to due to plenty of injuries and lack of practice time. Those things won’t be an issue come October.
The players didn’t have input on who the coach is, as Rosas said, but the fact that they almost unanimously supported Saunders last season should make the transition easier. It makes the possibility of this summer being more beneficial than it has been in the past.
“I think the one thing about me and Ryan, we have a great relationship,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “I think the first big step we made this summer was bringing everyone back this summer, trying to get everyone back here. I don’t remember the last time we had anyone back here in Minnesota in the summer, especially this early. We’re taking a new approach.”
Towns was one of eight members of the Wolves that was in attendance. That included Andrew Wiggins and restricted free agent-to-be Tyus Jones. Those guys being in town right now matters. Maybe it would have happened even if someone other than Saunders was named head coach, but maybe the culture wouldn’t be in this place had it been someone else.
The Wolves have to develop players better than they have in the past. They don’t have much of a choice. They’re going to need to be creative in how upgrades to the roster is made, and making their own players better is one of the simplest ways of doing so.
“Critical. I’m a big believer you work inside-out,” Rosas said. “The investment we’re going to make on our players to have those individuals not only here at the press conference, but having worked over the last two-three weeks is a big sign of that. Our coaching staff will have a strong identity with player development because we believe that’s the best way to improve our roster and we’re going to make our program players better.”
The first case-study of player development for the Wolves will be none other than Wiggins. He’s underperformed not only his contract, but the expectations that have been set on him for his career. It feels as if there’s nowhere to go but up for the former No. 1 overall pick.
“Just playing faster,” Wiggins said about how a shift to a more modern style would suit him. “I feel that’s something that would benefit me, just playing faster, getting after it, being more aggressive, shooting more, shooting more threes … so I feel like it would benefit me.
“The main thing is to get back on track. I feel like I was at a good pace, and then the last couple years haven’t been the best for me. The main thing for me is to get back on track.”
Wiggins is spot on about that, the last couple of years haven’t been very good to him. Maybe a new system will help change that. Maybe the team will be able to turn him into a serviceable player, maybe the new culture would help him more than anything.
“I think this is a very positive change,” Wiggins said of the team hiring Saunders. “You can see the fresh air, you can see the faces and the positive energy in the air. Everyone is happy for Ryan — you don’t see no negative faces, everyone is happy and we’re supportive. It’s just a positive energy in the room, so I think it’s going to be a great change.”
There are still problems that need fixing, and there’s no magic wand the Wolves can wave to immediately fix things. Speaking on it continuously won’t hurt, as long as there’s actions to follow those words.