I’m happy for new Timberwolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders getting to be an NBA head coach in his hometown. His late father Flip Saunders raised him around the game of basketball, taught him the game, and just like that, this young guy in his 30s is an NBA head coach.
Dreams do come true and people do win the lottery. NBA franchises are valued at billions of dollars, star players make millions, and the glitz and excitement can be overwhelming. It’s fun only if you win.
And winning can be very hard to do — just ask the Timberwolves. You think they don’t have talented players? Karl Anthony Towns is an all-star; Andrew Wiggins is talented and close to being an impact-type star. The foundation is in place. From there it takes hard work, good fortune, vision and patience. On June 24, the Timberwolves will get to add another talented player with the 11th overall pick.
For 15 years now the Timberwolves have been an embarrassment. I would be lying if I told you differently. After 30 years in a competitive business, they have failed. In the NBA, 16 teams make the playoffs and 14 don’t. Those that lose or miss the playoffs are in the lottery. New Orleans just won the lottery and the Zion Williamson rights.
Saunders is their fifth coach in seven years. The coach who Saunders replaced, Tom Thibodeau, was fired after just two and a half years. He led the team to the playoffs in his second season.
Former all-star Jimmy Butler, who Thibodeau traded for with Chicago two years ago, grew unhappy after not getting a five-year $125,000,000 deal. Thibodeau sent Butler to Philadelphia for three players. Last season imploded; the team had lots of injuries and finished 36-46.
Glenn Taylor hired Saunders as interim coach after the 40th game and booted Thibodeau out, owing him $25 million.
A month ago, Gerson Rosas was hired as Timberwolves president of basketball operations after 14 years in Houston. The Timberwolves are real high on his hiring. Analytics is in his DNA — it’s all about numbers, the new wave in sports. Many swear by it. However, I believe in great talent and chemistry and commitment.
It’s worked for years. The Boston Celtics have won 17 NBA titles with no analytics; the Lakers won 16 NBA titles with no analytics. It takes great leadership and players with talent who play together with passion. Yes, you have to play defense, rebound, and make three-point shots in today’s NBA.
Thirty-one years ago, when the league expanded, the Timberwolves were born in the NBA. They came into the league with Miami, Orlando and Charlotte. Because all three of those teams are east of the Mississippi, the Timberwolves were forced to play in the Western Conference. That has been a curse.
The Timberwolves travel way more miles in the West, and the two-hour time difference is a killer. The travel to cities like Utah, Oakland, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Portland, all in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, have worn the Timberwolves down. And, the West is much deeper than the Eastern Conference in terms of talent.
In the seven years since 2012, the Timberwolves have run through five head coaches: Rick Adelman, Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell, Tom Thibodeau, and now Ryan Saunders. That’s five coaches over five years, and the one who led them to the playoffs they fired. Go figure.
Players change their minds and want out and coaches get fired: Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, Anthony Davis in New Orleans, Kyrie Irving in Boston, Jimmy Butler here.
Does anyone believe in continuity? Stability? Patience? Thirty-three-year-old Saunders is now the next Wolves coach with no previous coaching experience dealing with millionaire superstars and social media headaches.
I wish him good luck. After what I have witnessed over the last 30 years from this ownership, you expect me to be optimistic?