Ryan Saunders, the son of Flip Saunders, the former coach and manager of Timberwolves, and the first turn of the millennium to train in the NBA, had to deal with injuries to his two main characters Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell this season. After Minnesota fell to the worst 7:24 record in the league after their fourth consecutive loss on Sunday, a 103-99 defeat against a Thibodeau-trained New York Knicks team, the Timberwolves relieved Saunders of his duties.
In an unusual mid-season move, Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas plans to hire Toronto Raptors deputy coach Chris Finch as a full-time replacement for Saunders, according to people aware of the situation.
“We would like to thank Ryan for his time and dedication to the Timberwolves organization and wish him all the best for the future,” Rosas said in a statement. “These are tough decisions, but making this change is in the best interests of the company’s short and long-term goals.”
Upon arriving in Minnesota in 2019, Rosas conducted a coaching search that ended with Saunders promotion from an intermediate role. Moving aggressively to find a running partner for Towns, the Timberwolves sacrificed Andrew Wiggins and their first choice that season for Russell in a deal with the Golden State Warriors. Those plans have yet to materialize as Towns and Russell have only shared five games on the court since trading.
The Timberwolves struggled to create an identity – 28th place in offensive efficiency and 23rd place in defensive efficiency – also because of an exceptionally young squad. You’re also 6-11 in games that were within five points or less in the last five minutes, some of those losses being due to self-inflicted mistakes in late game. Saunders’ departure continues a tumultuous period for the organization, which was reportedly on sale last July, though a sale never came about.
Finch, 51, was an assistant coach to the Houston Rockets during Rosas’ tenure in the front office with the franchise and previously served as an assistant to the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans before joining the Raptors this year. His coaching career also includes stations in England, Germany, Belgium and the G-League. Minnesota would represent Finch’s first full-time NBA head coach opportunity.