Hiring Ryan Saunders was Cool Thing to Do, But Not Smart Thing
If you peruse around the sports world, you will recognize a narrative being pushed when hiring head coaches. The world wants us to believe that teams are best off finding a young and progressive mind that will better relate to younger players.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves fired Tom Thibodeau, the organization envisioned a revised culture and a youthful identity. They certainly accomplished that when they hired of Ryan Saunders, the youngest head coach in NBA history.
Gersson Rosas and the new-age Timberwolves front office was trying to lead the progressive movement. But anytime this franchise tries to be a leader, it usually ends in a nightmare instead.
Many felt Ryan Saunders wasn’t ready yet for the big time, which I’d agree with. Others felt Saunders was dealt a bad hand, only able to coach KAT and DLo a total of five games during his tenure. I’d agree with that as well.
But more importantly, Glen Taylor and Gersson Rosas failed to recognize what this team truly needed at the head coach position, which was experience and style.
The Timberwolves went 43-94 under Ryan Saunders (since Jan. 8, 2019). That is the 3rd-worst record in the NBA over that span, ahead of only the Knicks and Cavaliers.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 22, 2021
Saunders only got 5 games with Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell playing together. pic.twitter.com/j1iJNlgiiV
Go younger they said…
Executives have become married to the idea that the closer in age the coach is to their players, the more relatable the environment. But reality fights back at that narrative. The Thunder and Grizzlies are currently the only two NBA teams with head coaches under the age of 40, in Mark Daigneault and Taylor Jenkins. In fact, less than half of the league’s coaches (12) are under the age of 50.
Going “young” is subjective. I agree, you don’t want to bring in a basketball dinosaur who hates the modern NBA game. But you also don’t want a 33-year-old who doesn’t have the experience and isn’t ready to raise a young talented team into its prime.
In hindsight, finding someone in the middle would’ve been ideal. Instead, Rosas and Taylor went with Saunders, which was asking too much of the young homegrown kid. He wasn’t ready and it showed.
Nuggets Story vs Wolves Story
A team I constantly think about, when tracking the trajectory of this Minnesota Timberwolves team, are the Denver Nuggets, who were in a similar position a few years back. In 2018, Minnesota eliminated Denver to clinch its first playoff berth in 17 years.
Think about how the Nuggets have transcended since that point and how the Wolves have digressed. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have solidified themselves as one of the best duos in basketball. Karl Towns and D’Angelo Russell have solidified themselves as injury prone. Above it all though, Mike Malone has brought experience and configured the right style to Denver.
Take a look at the rosters around the association and you’ll find the Wolves have more talent on their roster than the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic. Yet, all five teams have a better record. Why?
After the firing of Ryan Saunders I came away with two things. Saunders was in over his head at his age and certainly wasn’t given the most ideal situation to win in. The Wolves wanted to be progressive and flopped.
Now, the Minnesota Timberwolves turn to 51-year-old Chris Finch. A coach who won an NBA D-League Championship, a D-League Coach of the Year winner and an assistant in the NBA for 10 years.
We’ll see how hindsight plays out for him.
Stephen Strom | Minnesota Sports Fan