T-Wolves Rumors: Ryan Saunders Signs Contract to Be Permanent Head Coach

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2019

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders argues for a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 99-95. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Minnesota Timberwolves are moving forward with Ryan Saunders as the team's permanent position, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported on Monday morning.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic previously reported the two sides were in negotiations on a contract, while ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski was first to report it would be a multi-year contract.

Saunders, 33, went 17-25 with the Timberwolves after taking over for Tom Thibodeau midway through the 2018-19 season. He's been an assistant coach with the organization since 2014, serving under his father, the late Flip Saunders.

Wojnarowski reported in April that Timberwolves ownership preferred to keep Saunders as the head coach. However, new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was given the chance to conduct his own coaching search, and Wojnarowski reported Rosas met with candidates at the NBA scouting combine.

While NBA decision-makers often want to hire "their" guy, Rosas likely realized how much support Saunders had in the organization—both from ownership and players. A majority of the locker room endorsed him as the coach following the end of the season.

"Ryan is just an extremely positive guy," Tyus Jones said, per Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press. "He's someone who connects, I think, with the players, and that's something I think everyone has noticed. … Both on and off the court, just a down-to-earth, great guy. So when he took over, I think that translated. Guys want to play for him, want to give their all, and I think he just connects with the guys really well."

"It's my wish, if it's possible, for Ryan to stay here and be the coach," Dario Saric said. "I think he's the best option for Minnesota, especially in the long term."

Saunders will be by far the youngest coach in the NBA. Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton, who is six years older than Saunders, is the next-youngest coach. It's perhaps Saunders' relatability to the young roster, along with him being there throughout their growing pains, that has earned him trust within the locker room.

Saunders didn't turn Minnesota into a juggernaut post-Thibs—the team's record was actually worse under him—but the cohesion and stability he'll bring will be a welcomed change.

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