"The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from [Karl-Anthony] Towns will more than offset ownership's disappointment about returning to the draft lottery," Stein wrote.
Minnesota has officially been eliminated from the playoffs with a 33-40 record entering Tuesday.
Expectations were much higher going into the season after reaching the playoffs last year for the first time since 2004. Both Towns and Jimmy Butler were named third-team All-NBA and there seemed to be enough talent around the roster to be competitive in the Western Conference.
However, Butler requested a trade that finally went through in November and the team never seemed to recover.
Saunders took over for Tom Thibodeau in January after he was fired following a 19-21 start to the season. Unfortunately, the team has been just as bad after the coaching switch, including a 6-10 mark since the All-Star Break.
Still, injuries are partly to blame for these struggles, as Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Robert Covington are all out for the rest of the season.
Towns has also played well under Saunders, averaging 28.0 points and 12.8 points per game in 30 appearances after the coaching change. If he can play this well over the course of a full season and the rest of the team can remain healthy, the squad would have a much better chance of competing.
Saunders has been with Minnesota since 2014 when he worked as an assistant under his father, Flip Saunders, so he knows the organization well. This continuity could be an asset as he tries to get the permanent head coaching role.