It wasn’t necessarily that the Minnesota Timberwolves fired Ryan Saunders that was the problem. It was how they did it.
Disclosure before we continue: I’m a huge fan of Ryan Saunders the person. When I was laid off by the Timberwolves, Saunders called. On the anniversary of my mom’s death, Saunders called. There is a relationship between us beyond him being the coach of the team. It’s hard for me to get into whether or not he should have been fired, so I’m just going to leave that as it is. It’s over and here we are. In fairness, Saunders wasn’t necessarily dealt the best hand.
After firing Saunders, the team immediately announced they had signed Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch to a multiyear deal. I don’t remember anything quite like this happening during the middle of the season, which made it clear that the Wolves had come to an agreement with Finch before Saunders coached his last game, which was against the New York Knicks on Sunday.
The front office knew Saunders’ fate as he coached in New York and was on the flight back. Finch’s Raptors were in Minneapolis on Friday night, so we can probably all come to the conclusion that’s where the negotiating happened. I’m not saying Finch, who seems well-respected, isn’t the right choice. I hope he is. But it’s just kind of gross how the team went about it, especially when you consider Gersson Rosas has preached culture and “doing things the right way during his time” in Minnesota. I can assure you that this is not the right way to do anything. For a guy who has “actions over words” on his bumper sticker, that’s a tough look.
The Wolves have a PR staff, albeit not as large as it once was, to handle these things. My guess it that they weren’t able to give their opinion on this matter. The consensus should have been to fire Saunders and at least wait a few hours, or until the next day, to name the next coach. Even if a deal was already done, waiting was the right move — especially to the Saunders family, who have given so much to the organization over the years.
And then there’s the David Vanterpool situation. Current and former players, and well-respected media members, have all agreed that Vanterpool will one day be an NBA head coach, and probably a pretty good one. When Vanterpool landed in Minnesota after Rosas took over, it was seen as a huge win to get him to join the staff. Now, it seems pretty likely that this season will be his last in the Twin Cities.
If Saunders was let go, Vanterpool was a guy who had paid his dues and seemed like the logical choice. Didn’t he deserve an interim spot? Even if Finch was your guy, why not let Vanterpool finish the season? If he’s great, now you have a decision to make. If he struggles, you move on. Finch is 51 and had never been a head coach. My guess is that if the relationship between he and Rosas is as strong as we think it is, both sides would have been patient and just waited a few months.
Rosas has preached growing and elevating from within. During his press conference on Monday, he pretty much said that the situation had gotten so bad that an in-house hire wouldn’t have been able to do the job. The problem with that is, Rosas is the one who had hired everyone. Eventually, if the Wolves continue to struggle, Rosas will have to accept blame. While he has made fine moves on the fringe guys, he traded up in a draft where his target was already taken and dealt the team’s top-five pick and Andrew Wiggins for a point guard who just might not be very good.
A lot of the blame rests on Glen Taylor’s shoulders, probably more than on Rosas. There’s been one constant of the Wolves’ horribleness, and that’s Taylor. If Rosas felt like he had to hire Saunders, which is probably true, that’s not great. It would make sense for him to cut ties and hire his guy. He just did it in a way that probably lost him a lot of respect around the league, and certainly among Wolves fans — even if they agreed with the move to fire Saunders.
All eyes are on Rosas now. While he’s been different than most of what we’ve seen from former GMs here, so far different hasn’t necessarily meant better.
A team can preach culture and “doing things the right way” all it wants. The Timberwolves just did the opposite of that.