5. Chauncey Billups
4. Ryan Saunders
It’s hard to rank either Chauncey Billups or Ryan Saunders as coaching candidates, but here we are. And hey, if you’re the interim head coach and/or if Adrian Wojnarowski names you as a candidate, then you’re a candidate.
While Saunders is a bit easier to dissect due to his extensive background as an assistant and the amount of time he’s spent in Minnesota, Billups is a bit more challenging.
Billups played 17 seasons in the NBA, including the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons in Minnesota under Flip Saunders. Billups left in free agency and won an NBA championship with the Pistons in 2003-04. Saunders followed Billups a few years later and coached the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Finals in three consecutive seasons.
Saunders returned to Minnesota as front office boss and eventually as head coach and in the summer of 2013 reportedly had a brief courtship with Billups, trying to persuade the veteran to finish his career with the Wolves, but the guard ultimate returned to Detroit before retiring in 2014.
Then, prior to the start of the 2014-15 season, Saunders attempted to pursue Billups to join his coaching staff. The grand plan was apparently to then work Billups into the head coaching role the following year, but Billups didn’t join the staff and Saunders passed away in October of 2015.
Billups has been rumored as a front office candidate in both Detroit and Cleveland and is reportedly interested in such a role, but wants to ensure that it’s the right opportunity. It’s unclear if he has interest in being a head coach.
Billups hasn’t coached at any level, and it’s exceedingly difficult to project whether or not he would be a good hire. But his lack of experience and lack of familiarity with the Wolves’ current core players puts him squarely at No. 5 on this list.
For the record, I tend to think that Billups will be a fine coach, but don’t have anything to base this on outside of his playing career (including how long he remained an effective point guard after his skills began to diminish) and his work as a television commentator. It’s possible that he’ll get a head coaching job without being an assistant anywhere else first, but I’m not sure that Minnesota is the right situation.
As for Saunders, well, we’ll learn a lot more over the upcoming weeks and months. He’s highly regarded around the league (Miami tried to hire him away a couple of years ago, according to SI’s Chris Mannix) and has an analytics background, even helping start an analytical program that helps with in-game probabilities and statistical outcomes in real time.
Wolves players love him, that much is evident. And, coming from someone who was a frequent critic of Flip, Ryan is the son of a successful NBA coach. The experience of learning from someone who went to four Conference Finals and won 654 career games, combined with Ryan’s decade as an assistant is extensive experience that will surely serve him well for the balance of this season and beyond.