The Minnesota Timberwolves are the first NBA team to fire their head coach this season, dismissing Ryan Saunders from that position on Sunday night after a 103-99 loss to the New York Knicks. He was among the odds-on favorites to get fired since before the season began, and the Timberwolves have been awful from the start of the year.
Saunders is certainly not among the league’s best coaches by any stretch, and considering their league-worst 7-24 record, it’s safe to say this firing was more than fair. They missed Karl-Anthony Towns for much of the season due to injuries and COVID, and that’s going to be a challenge for even the best teams to overcome.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are not one of the best teams.
Replacing Saunders with Chris Finch is a chance at a fresh start for the Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves literally wasted no time in finding a replacement, hiring Chris Finch away from the Toronto Raptors as their new full-time head coach. Finch has interviewed with a number of teams for their vacant head coaching jobs, but thus far only has assistant coaching experience at the NBA level with the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and the Raptors.
Saunders was basically Timberwolves royalty, the son of franchise icon Flip Saunders, and Finch will be taking over as an outsider, one without those bloodlines. It’s healthy to sever those ties, especially when the scion is unable to deliver on expectations placed upon him by his team.
Going outside of a franchise’s own coaching ranks during a season to find a full-time replacement is virtually unheard of. Generally speaking, a firing team will promote an assistant from its own ranks on an interim basis before conducting a wider coaching search. In this case, there were mere moments between the announcement of Saunders’ dismissal and Finch’s hire.
It’s additionally bizarre because the Timberwolves have a respected assistant in their own ranks; David Vanterpool. It’s just a matter of time before he gets his own head coaching job somewhere, so it’s more than a bit odd that the organization wouldn’t merely move their own man up into the big job.
NBA players took to Twitter to voice their distress and confusion over Vanterpool getting passed over, including his former Portland Trail Blazers players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum:
There’s probably a simple answer to this question. Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas has a background with Finch from their days together with the Houston Rockets. While this rationale may not satisfy everybody who wanted to see Vanterpool get the job, there is certainly a logic to it.
It’s a shame Saunders’ tenure in Minnesota had to come to an end like this, but the NBA is a results-based league. The Timberwolves had a 43-94 record in his two-plus seasons and regressed each of the past two seasons from an unimpressive 17-25 finish in year one after taking over for Tom Thibodeau as an interim coach.
With an outside voice comes fresh input for an organization that has been in desperate need of a new infusion. Whether the dysfunction coming from the top in owner Glen Taylor can even be overcome or not, time will tell. But Chris Finch is the next man up to see if he can move mountains in Minnesota and get them over the hump.