The Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up their coaching search rather quickly after it started. The team landed on Ryan Saunders to lead the way as the 11th full-time head coach in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves. With the search just ending for the Wolves, the tough part now begins.
The Wolves held a very legitimate – albeit quick – coaching search that saw four external candidates interview for the job. Chris Finch, Darvin Ham, Juwaun Howard, and David Vanterpool all spoke with President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas last week during the NBA Combine in Chicago. The first three candidates all met with Rosas in person, while Vanterpool spoke with Rosas via phone.
Saunders did enough in his 42-game stint as interim head coach to earn this opportunity. His record of 17-25 was nothing special in that time, but he did earn the respect of the locker room, and notably earned the endorsement of Karl-Anthony Towns.
After the Wolves beat the Golden State Warriors in a late-March game, Towns gave his thoughts on the coaching job that Saunders had done thus far.
“Yes,” Towns responded about whether or not he thinks about how badly Saunders wants the job full-time before the question could even be finished. “I think that he’s done a lot to earn it. Our record may not be what we want it to be, but I think the culture he’s building and the excitement the fans feel in our team, something you just can’t make up. He is Minnesota basketball through and throughout. His blood has been here his whole life, his blood before him has been here their whole lives. I think that he’s a great candidate for the job.”
That quote from Towns carried weight. It wasn’t a comment that he needed to make. He very easily could have taken a road that didn’t have him pledge his support. That’s been the case with plenty of superstars before. It’s easy to remain noncommittal on issues like this one. Towns didn’t.
He wasn’t the only one in the locker room that felt that way, either. Multiple players talked about how great of a communicator Saunders was as a coach. That included veterans Taj Gibson and Luol Deng. While there’s a chance that neither of those two players are back with the Wolves next season, they didn’t exactly need to make the comments on Saunders, either.
Having the locker room already bought in to Saunders in a great first step, especially for the NBA’s youngest head coach. Saunders, 33, showed he can coach at the NBA level already. The stage isn’t too big for him, but he’ll still need to improve upon what he did as an interim.
Yes, he was dealt an incredibly poor hand of cards as the interim coach. Not one time did swingman Robert Covington suit up and play while he was at the helm, the backcourt was in shambles due to injury, and the losses piled up partly due to those things.
If things go as planned, Saunders will have a healthier roster when the season opens up in October. More importantly, he’ll have the benefit of ample practice time to get ready for the season, something he wasn’t afforded when taking over mid-season last year.
It’s incredibly difficult to make changes during the season, especially the stylistic ones that Saunders wanted to make. The Wolves should look much different under him next season than they did last season. It’s up to the organization to ensure that happens. Surrounding Saunders with a strong staff of assistants is a necessary step. There needs to be someone that’s defensively minded as a right-hand man for Saunders.
If those things go as planned, the Wolves will be better than they were last season. They’re too talented to finish in a similar place as last season. Towns is too good to be on a bad team, and maybe Saunders and Rosas will be able to get devise a role well-suited for Andrew Wiggins in an attempt to maximize what he can give to the team.
Saunders is beloved in the organization and by owner Glen Taylor. That matters, but winning will matter more. How long the road to winning will be is yet to be seen, but the Wolves are clearly hoping that Saunders – and Rosas – will take them down it.