Wolves turn to Saunders to help lead franchise modernization

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, May 22, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Three decades after their entry into the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves have deployed an aggressive plan to modernize their operation.

What better way, they concluded, than to hire the youngest head coach in the league?

Ryan Saunders, at the ripe old age of 33, has been tasked with using his lifelong passion for the organization, player-friendly communication style and tech-savvy analytical skill to help take the Timberwolves to championship contention, something they’ve only briefly reached in a mostly clumsy history. Saunders, the first millennial to hold the job in the NBA, is the 13th head coach the franchise has had in 30 seasons.

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“It was hard for me to find another leader who could connect with our players at the level he has connected, not just on the court but off the court,” said president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, who feted Saunders at a news conference just two weeks after his own introduction . “It was hard for me to find a leader that shares my vision of how the game should be played, offensively and defensively.”

At the direction of owner Glen Taylor and chief executive officer Ethan Casson, the Timberwolves have begun to reinvent themselves under Rosas as an innovative outfit that’s cutting-edge, player-centric and family-oriented.

“You can see the fresh air,” said Andrew Wiggins, who at age 24 has the second-longest tenure on the team.

Having already guided the team for the last 42 games of the season on an interim basis following the firing of president and coach Tom Thibodeau, carrying hearty endorsements from the roster, Saunders already had a foot in the door.

Taylor’s outspoken fondness for the son of the late Flip Saunders, the only Timberwolves coach to finish with a winning record over 10-plus years on the sideline and the executive who directed the drafting of both Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns, sure made this hire seem predetermined. Rosas, however, interviewed four other assistant coaches around the league before settling on Saunders.

“Glen wants the best for this organization. He told me when I took the job, ‘This is your decision,’” Rosas said, adding: “I would never put individuals in a situation or go through a process that didn’t have purpose. They understood. Believe me, we had qualified candidates. We had very good discussions. This was a tough decision, but we made the right choice.”