This might be the most eventful 20-21 season the Minnesota Timberwolves have ever experienced. As a fan it has been nothing short of frustrating to watch everything unfold the way it has. It seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel; that this year was going to be a complete waste and the future was dim at best.
Coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to suck the life out of both the team and the fans. Jimmy Butler flexed his ego on everyone and seemingly ruined the season before it even began. Andrew Wiggins wasn’t taking the next step, Karl-Anthony Towns was regressing statistically and rookie Josh Okogie after a promising start wasn’t even seeing the floor.
I should say former coach Tom Thibodeau as owner Glen Taylor finally made the move that we all had been waiting for since October and let Tom go. But what would this mean for the rest of the season? Who would take over?
Enter Ryan Saunders, a name we should be all too familiar with. Saunders has been an assistant coach for the Timberwolves since 2014 where he started when his dad, Flip Saunders, was the Head Coach.
If you aren’t familiar with the Saunders name, I’ll quick give you a reminder as to what Flip meant to Minnesota basketball. The Minnesota Gopher standout started with the Timberwolves as a General Manager in 1995 and quickly became the head coach. Flip was directly paired with Kevin Garnett in their time in Minnesota, making the playoffs 9 straight years and getting to the Western Conference Finals in 2004.
Saunders returned to Minnesota as the President of Basketball Operations in 2013 and again quickly also became the Head Coach in 2014. Flip orchestrated the trade for Andrew Wiggins and drafted Towns with the first overall pick in his time as President, two pivotal moves to the current state of the Timberwolves.
Flip died in 2015 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 60. Apart maybe from Kevin Garnett, nobody has meant more to the franchise than Flip has.
Ryan stayed on staff through both Sam Mitchell and more recently Tom Thibodeau’s stint as head coach and on Tuesday he won his head coaching debut. In a 119-117 thriller over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ryan had the team playing loose, playing uptempo and the players responded well. Ryan even ran Flip’s favorite play “552 Twist” to start the game – which resulted in a basket.
When the final buzzer sounded, the players jumped up and down celebrating and mobbed Ryan on the sidelines. Players hugged him, high-fived him and everyone on the team was all smiles. When he walked into the locker room, he got mobbed again by all the players who dumped water on him and presented him with the game ball.
Despite his young age, and two players on the roster being older than him, Saunders is respected around the league as bright young NBA mind with the knowledge and experience to get it done. Being a positive thinker, a great motivator, an approachable authority figure and a good basketball mind is a great place to start as a head coach.
I’m not sure if this means they will make the playoffs this year or if Ryan will be hired as the full time coach for next year, but what we do know for certain is that he learned from the absolute best. The Saunders name is back and we finally have something to believe in again.