The seemingly inevitable departure of Ryan Saunders is finally here. There has been a growing sentiment of disdain for Saunders at the helm since the moment he took the position. Sure, there were “good vibes” and “a family culture,” but all of that was underscored by the constant drone of losing. Eventually, the subtle drone crescendoed into a mighty chorus of defeat to the tune of 7-24 and last place in the west.
As the losses piled up this season, Minnesota Timberwolves fans donned their pitchforks and torches and took to Twitter as if Saunders were Frankenstein’s monster, an abomination of a creature that had no place in their town. Saunders’ final game in Minnesota — a loss to his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau — was a tragedy of Shakespearian proportion, which had me saying, “You can’t write this stuff.” So here I am, writing this stuff.
Yes, the Wolves’ misfortunes seem like they’ve come from a literary mind with a propensity to weave imaginative stories of hardship and pain. However, the last few years feel particularly miserable. Since the ‘17-18 season when the Wolves caught the sweet scent of victory by breaking their 14-year playoff drought, things have gone, um, downhill. Making the playoffs only to trade Jimmy Butler and fire Tom Thibodeau the next season is like going to Jimmy Johns for lunch and realizing you forgot your wallet. At least you get to enjoy the free smells.
Considering that the Wolves have been so despicably terrible this season, the firing of Saunders does not come as a surprise. The surprise in this parting of ways is that Gersson Rosas had seemingly already come to an agreement with Saunders’ replacement. Normally, when a coach is fired midseason, an interim from the coaching staff is named and the team reassesses in the offseason. It’s clear that Gersson knew who he wanted well before Saunders was fired.
This process speaks to a bigger issue within the Timberwolves organization: Rosas’ goals and ideals for the team are not copacetic with those Glen Taylor. Although Taylor may be on his way out the door as owner, appears to be focused on building a culture grounded in “Minnesota Nice,” which is an issue I’ve talked about previously. On the other hand, Rosas continues to show that, although he may be giving lip service to Taylor, his goal is singular: To win.
It began by gutting the team that he inherited from Thibodeau, leaving Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie as the only holdovers from the former regime. Mind you, this complete overhaul came after a Bahamas trip where the team was to bond and grow closer together. Now he has fired the coach who was gifted the job by Taylor in an act of nepotism that rivals Tillman Furtitta hiring his own sons to work in the Rockets front office.
I side fully with Rosas here. Glen may want to build a feel-good culture, but culture is not formed through losing. You can desire to build a winning culture, but as long as your team remains at the bottom of the standings, there is no culture to be built. Losing begets losing, and that is exactly what we’ve seen in Minnesota. Rosas is building the team in his vision, and that requires cleaning house. Soon, Taylor will be gone and the real new era of Timberwolves basketball can begin.
For now, Taylor remains and Rosas continues to walk the line between Glen’s vision and his own. With every move that Rosas makes, however, he continues to diminish Taylor’s influence over this team.
Rosas has hired Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch to lead this team into the future. Finch has been an offensive-minded assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, and New Orleans Pelicans. He’s coached a G-League team to a championship. He’s been the right-hand man to Nick Nurse, one of the best coaches in the league. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Finch will begin his tenure as the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
One thing that is important to note about Finch is that he spent his time in Denver coaching Nikola Jokic in his second year. I’m a big advocate for the Wolves unleashing Karl-Anthola Townkic onto the league. That is to say, I think that giving KAT the opportunity to initiate offense the way that Jokic does for the Nuggets is essential if the Wolves want to maximize his skill set. Saunders historically preached that more players would handle the ball, but we never saw point-KAT. Looking at Jokic’s improvement when Finch joined the Nuggets coaching staff is an encouraging sign.
At this moment I feel hopeful, but Wolves fans shouldn’t expect this team to be suddenly fixed. The problems that have plagued them still exist: D’Angelo Russell is still hurt, the forward rotation is still as thin as Jaden McDaniels, and most of the players are under 25 years old. The journey to contention will still be a long one, but as Rosas pieces together his vision for this franchise, maybe there is hope on the horizon.