The Minnesota Timberwolves did not suddenly turn a corner after coach and GM Tom Thibodeau was let go midseason.
The Timberwolves have gone 10-12 under interim coach Ryan Saunders, although they have looked better in recent weeks. In their last 10 games the Timberwolves have a top-10 offense in the league, and since the All-Star break Karl-Anthony Towns put up big numbers until a car accident sidelined him. All of that is not enough to get Minnesota in the playoffs this year, but there is some reason for optimism going forward.
Owner Glen Taylor likes what he’s seen out of Saunders and thinks the youngest coach in the NBA could keep his job after the season. Here is what Taylor told Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune.
“I think he has a good chance [to get the job full-time],” Taylor said. “It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start.
“I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”
To me, it’s been challenging to judge just how good a job Saunders is doing. There isn’t enough hard evidence to swing a job review one way or the other yet.
It’s always difficult to judge an interim coach because there are only so many changes one can make midseason. In Minnesota’s case, you need to throw in a rash of injuries that muddy the picture — Robert Covington, Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose have all missed time for Saunders, and now Towns is in that mix as well. On the upside, players seem to play hard for him, but the team isn’t winning at a different pace than it did for Thibodeau. Towns had a good stretch of games (before the concussion). Andrew Wiggins has been up-and-down for Saunders, but he is up and down for everyone, that’s just Wiggins.
The other big question in all this: Who will be the general manager next season? Scott Layden is in that role now and there have not been rumblings of the Timberwolves contacting other teams to talk about potential candidates. Layden may keep the job, but whoever is in that chair should get to choose their coach.
Saunders may get to keep the job because the owner really likes him “as a person.” It’s just hard to tell if that will be the best thing for Minnesota going forward.