The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the season with playoff dreams based around their star duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, with No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards in the wings. Instead, they have the worst record in the NBA at 7-24, with a bottom-five offense and bottom-10 defense. The Timberwolves have dropped 8-of-9 after Sunday’s loss to the Knicks. The team was not growing or improving.
The loss to the Knicks was the final straw, and the Timberwolves have fired coach Ryan Saunders, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and soon confirmed by the team itself.
“These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization’s short and long-term goals,” said Gersson Rosas, Minnesota president of basketball operations, in a statement.
Minnesota reportedly will hire Chris Finch as their new full-time coach (not an interim), reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are hiring Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch as the new head coach on multiyear contract, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 22, 2021
Finch is a top assistant out of Toronto who has been near the top of the “assistants who should get a head coaching job” list for a while. He has interviewed with multiple teams, and he is good friends with Rosas.
However, for Rosas and the Timberwolves not to have gone through an interview process — and to not interview any candidates of color, including David Vanterpool, another top assistant on the “should get a job” list right on their own bench — is not a good look for the team or league right now. Damian Lillard summed up the feelings of many:
How the hell do you not hire David Vanterpool and he’s right there on the bench… and has been in front office SUCCESSFULLY and on the front of a bench of a winning team SUCCESSFULLY (7 years) … and also has played a major role in the development of a dominant backcourt smdh!
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) February 22, 2021
For this to be in place so quickly suggests the Timberwolves’ plan for Saunders to be fired was in the works for a while.
Firing him could not have been an easy decision in Minnesota, where Saunders — the son of beloved former coach Flip Saunders — was popular and embedded in the organization. Rosas did not hire Saunders, but the young coach was a favorite of the owner, so there had to be cause to let him go. Last month, owner Glen Taylor said they had not even discussed letting go of Saunders, but the team just kept losing even as players got healthy.
Not everything that went wrong in Minnesota this season was Saunders’ fault. Karl-Anthony Towns admitted to struggling emotionally with the death of his mother to COVID-19 entering the season, then he himself got the disease and missed considerable time. Towns and Russell have played a total of five games together since last season’s trade to pair the duo.
However, as a team the Timberwolves were not getting better, their in-game adjustments were questionable, and the team had stagnated. Towns is a franchise-cornerstone big man with three years left on his contract after this one. He’s not asking to be traded, not doing anything but trying to win, but when a smaller-market team has a franchise player and keeps losing, the clock is ticking.
Now it will be up to Finch to stop the clock.