On Tuesday morning it was reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves would begin interviewing external candidates to be the next head coach of the team. Locally – and nationally – it felt as if interim coach Ryan Saunders was a near-lock to be promoted to the coach on a full-time basis.
Saunders is still in play for the job, but the candidates that have been reported point to this being a very legitimate coaching search, rather than one that just gives the perception of new President of Basketball Operations making his own decision.
This shows that Rosas is in fact in charge. Even if Saunders does land the job – which very well still could happen – this shows that it was because that he was the best candidate for the job, not because it was mandated to Rosas upon his hiring.
Thus far, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Miami’s Juwan Howard, Portland’s David Vanterpool, and New Orleans’ Chris Finch will be interviewed by Rosas for the opening, along with Saunders. Each of the candidates are interesting in their own right.
Ham has been a member of Mike Budenholzer’s staff from his days in Atlanta with the Hawks and then during this season with the Bucks as well. While those teams in Atlanta struggled once reaching the playoffs, the Hawks always seemed to get the most out of their roster. The 2014-15 version of the Hawks won 60 games prior to being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The same can be said of the Milwaukee Bucks this year with Budenholzer in charge and Ham on staff. Last season the Bucks won 44 games under Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty after Kidd’s dismissal. This year they vaulted up to the best record in the NBA with 60 wins and are currently in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bucks have embraced the 3-point revolution in a way similar to the Houston Rockets, which obviously Rosas was essential to. Ham is certainly a candidate that makes sense.
Both Howard and Vanterpool are former players that have been in their current positions for some time now. Howard immediately stepped into an assistant coaching role with the Heat upon his retirement in 2013 and Vanterpool has been with the Blazers since 2012 as an assistant. They’re seasoned guys who have seen their names surface for a few of the recent job openings across the NBA, such as the Lakers (Howard) and Cleveland (Vanterpool). The Wolves talking to two guys that have experienced stability throughout their coaching careers feels like a smart thing to do.
The most interesting name – outside of Saunders – that the Wolves will be talking with if Finch. He’s currently an assistant under Alvin Gentry in New Orleans and was the associate head coach in Denver for the 2017-18 season. Before that he was an assistant coach in Houston from 2011 until 2016 while Rosas was there as well.
It’s also been documented how Rosas had a big hand in how the Rio Grande Valley Vipers – Houston’s D-League* affiliate – operated. He served as the general manager of the team as part of his role with the Rockets. Well, from 2009 until being promoted to an assistant with the Rockets, Finch was the head coach of that team. He took home the NBA D-League Coach of the Year award following the 2010 season.
Finch’s connection to Rosas makes him the most interesting candidate on this list by a wide margin. It would make sense for Rosas to bring in ‘one of his guys’ as he truly leads an organization for the first time. Finch would be just that.
Regardless who is hired as the next full-time coach of the Wolves, it’s a good thing that they’re going through this process. If the team does end up hiring Saunders, it will be because he was the best candidate, the right fit for the job, and because Rosas made the decision.
Saunders very much could be that. It’s far from out of the realm of possibility that he’s those things. He showed some flashes of being a very good coach throughout his half-season at the helm. It is hard to fairly grade him because of the hand he was dealt, too. The argument could be made that Robert Covington is the team’s second most important player, and he never played under Saunders. The point guard rotation was a shell of what it was prior to Saunders taking over.
There’s little doubt that Saunders will be a head coach in the NBA – and a good one at that – but it’s a question of when, not if. Maybe the coaching search will prove that he’s the best candidate for the job, but maybe it will prove someone else to be.