Minnesota Timberwolves mailbag: What does this summer look like?

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: Juan Hernangomez hugs Malik Beasley after they defeated the Miami Heat. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: Juan Hernangomez hugs Malik Beasley after they defeated the Miami Heat. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Ryan Saunders
ORLANDO, FL – FEBRUARY 28: Head Coach Ryan Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves on the sidelines. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Question: “Ryan (Saunders) has gotten some criticism for his coaching style. Do you think the Wolves should keep him or find a replacement, and why?” -Austin Schneider

It’s very understandable as to why fans have called for Ryan’s head throughout this season. He has made some very interesting lineup choices and in-game decisions that make many of us scratch our head and wonder what he is doing.

The biggest mistake of the season was his decision to pull the starters out of a game against Sacramento that seemed to be all but put to rest. After the Kings mounted possibly the greatest comeback in NBA history to send the game to overtime, Minnesota lost the extra period 14-10 resulting in the most heartbreaking loss of the season. Yes, even worse than the untucked jersey game.

I believe that Rosas hired Saunders this summer because he wanted a coach that would be willing to implement a system based on analytics and someone who would not give much pushback. This allows Rosas the ability to be the puppet-master of this team.

Also, Saunders has a good relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, which certainly helps his case. Having a coach that connects well to players is essential in building a positive locker room environment.

Related Story. Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders' Long Game. light

So, what do we make of Saunders the coach? First off, I think that Ryan is a quality developmental coach that has a track record of speeding up the learning process for some players.

With the help of the G-League, we have seen many under-the-radar players perform well at the NBA level, a la Jordan McLaughlin, Naz Reid, and Kelan Martin. The biggest question is what type of coach does this team need? That can only be answered if we know what type of team Rosas is hoping for the Wolves to be in the next year or two.

If Rosas is envisioning another team in the lottery next season, then a developmental coach such as Saunders would make sense. With the youth on this roster, barring a trade to bring in another high-profile player, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosas is okay with this team finishing around 9th or 10th place in the conference next season. If that’s the case, expect Saunders to be at the helm for at least one more year.

If the plan is to jump into the playoffs and make some noise, Rosas would likely have to pull off another impressive trade and/or this year’s draft picks would have to become high-quality contributors right off the bat. The former seems more likely than the latter.

Under these circumstances, it seems that the Wolves would want a coach that is good at gameplanning and scheming. Is Saunders that right now? No. Could he be one day? Of course. The problem is, how long is Rosas willing to wait for someday?

Kenny Atkinson is an intriguing coaching option that was recently let go from the Brooklyn Nets.

He has coached a similar system to Minnesota’s, has experience working with Pablo Prigioni and coaching D’Angelo Russell, but he is also pegged as a developmental coach, not someone that could take a team to the promised land.

For what it’s worth, I believe that Saunders will still be employed come this summer.

Ryan Saunders has coached 36 players in his first 105 games as head coach, according to Basketball Reference. With the immense roster turnover he has endured, he will likely get the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think that the Wolves should fire Saunders after this season, but if next year’s campaign is underwhelming and the team underachieves, I’d expect changes to the coaching staff.