Why A Saunders Might Just Bring The Wolves Back
Ryan Saunders might just be getting started, but perhaps this is the perfect time for Minnesota to have a Saunders in charge. One game under .500, early-season drama ending with the trade of Jimmy Butler, and a hard fought road win over current-Western-conference-three-seed Oklahoma City -- it’s quite a time to be a Timberwolf!
With the firing of former head coach Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota was at a coaching crossroads. Rumors have swirled around Fred Hoiberg, Monty Williams, Chauncey Billups and a host of other potential coaching candidates. Complicating matters, the possibility exists that Scott Layden may not be the long-term solution at GM, so it’s difficult to know if his next hire would be linked to his tenure in the Twin Cities.
What is clear is that separating the GM and head coaching jobs into two different roles is a crucial takeaway from the Thibodeau experience, and it is into that separation of powers that Ryan Saunder steps.
Saunders, son of former head coach Flip Saunders (who passed away in 2015 after battling cancer), has been groomed for this. He learned how his dad dealt with success and failure in Minnesota. He learned how you coach and bring together big personalities (Kevin Garnett didn’t listen to just anyone; imagine juggling Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell).
He’s paid his dues. Though Saunders is the youngest coach in the NBA, he’s spent ten years as an NBA assistant, five with Washington, and five with Minnesota before being elevated to the top of the ladder. This is not nepotism gone awry, but a young prodigy who is connected with a young team that have the potential to peak together -- in this season and moving forward.
Moreover, the bar in Minnesota is not that high. This is a franchise that reached its apex when, after eight first-round postseason exits, they were eliminated in the Western Conference finals. That they were knocked out by the Shaq & Kobe-led Lakers tells you how long ago that was (2004, if you can’t recall). The mantra in Minnesota is not ‘Title or Bust’ -- this franchise would love to just get back to consistent postseason appearances.
If you’ve seen the video of the Timberwolves celebrating Saunders’ first win, you know that he is loved and trusted by the players. Owner Glen Taylor, who watched Ryan grow up after hiring his father Flip when Ryan was just nine years old, has put his faith in this coaching product of the franchise, and so far it’s paying off.
The Ryan Saunders Timberwolves are 1-0. Here’s to seeing if Ryan Saunders can bring some of the magic his dad brought to the Twin Cities when he presided over the greatest period of success in franchise history.