Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

Everyone outside of a small circle of decision makers in the Minnesota Timberwolves organization were caught off-guard by the team’s decision to relieve Tom Thibodeau of his duties as president and head coach.

For Ryan Saunders, 32, it’s an opportunity to coach the team that his father, Flip, was coach and president of before his tragic passing.

“He’d tell me that he was proud of me,” Ryan said when asked what his father would say to him. “He knew this was a goal, eventually. Maybe he didn’t think it would happen this soon or in this unfortunate circumstance, but he’d tell me he’s proud of me.”

Although Karl-Anthony Towns and Thibodeau didn’t always see eye-to-eye on on-court issues, he thanked Thibodeau for pushing him and helping him “become a better man.” He said he’s excited to work with Saunders, though, after getting to know him as an assistant throughout the years.

“There is no hiding the fact that me and Ryan have a close relationship,” he said. “Especially the guys who have been drafted by his father and been with him since Day 1, so we all have a close relationship with Ryan.”

Derrick Rose was effusive with his praise of Thibodeau, acknowledging that he believed in Rose when most of the league thought his playing days were over. He shared a brief anecdote with the media about his final days as a Cleveland Cavalier.

He said he was at Cleveland State practicing by himself with his son, Art, by his side when he got the call from Thibodeau. “He’s the only coach that believed in me,” he said. “No teams wasn’t looking for me at all. I was basically out of the league.”

Scott Layden was hand-picked as Thibodeau’s right-hand man, and joined Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson in delivering the news to him after Minnesota’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

“These decisions are very tough, I think they’re hard to make, and it’s not taken lightly,” he said. “As far as the team is moving forward, we feel like we’ve got a good coach, and then of course I’ve been empowered to run the basketball operations and look forward to that as well.”

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