Wolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas has made one of his most pressing decisions in his new job — and he is keeping Ryan Saunders as head coach.
The Wolves announced Monday afternoon that Saunders has been named the permanent head coach. A press conference is scheduled for this morning.
Rosas also brought in Nets director of global scouting Gianluca Pascucci as an assistant general manager, a source confirmed.
Saunders became the interim coach after owner Glen Taylor fired former coach and President Tom Thibodeau on Jan. 6. Under Saunders, the Wolves went 17-25 and missed the playoffs, but Saunders has strong relationships with players such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins along with Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune.
“Ryan is an excellent communicator and has developed open and trusting relationships with our players,” Rosas said in a statement. “I am confident that as a partner he will get the most out of our players as we build an identity and a sustainable winning model.”
It was expected since late in the season that Saunders, 33, would become the permanent head coach, but that decision was up to Rosas. He interviewed several outside candidates for the job. Among those Rosas interviewed while at the scouting combine in Chicago last week were Miami assistant Juwan Howard, Portland assistant David Vanterpool, New Orleans associate head coach Chris Finch and Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham.
A few days after Rosas took the job, he and Saunders spent several hours over the course of three days talking about their vision for the job, one that included what an assistant coaching staff might look like, personnel, style of play, player development and how to modernize the Wolves’ offense into a up-tempo efficient one.
Finch is someone league sources thought could be a logical fit in Minnesota with Rosas, given Finch’s history working as an assistant in Houston. However, Rosas made the call on hiring Saunders after vetting the other candidates.
“I look forward to building on what we established last season in terms of instilling a positive environment for our players to grow on and off the court,” Saunders said in a statement. “I’m excited to collaborate with Gersson and our staff to build a winning team that we can all be proud of.”
Players such as Towns endorsed Saunders’ candidacy in the final weeks of the season, even after the Wolves were eliminated from the playoffs.
“It would be something really different for me to have some stability and actually know what’s happening the next day,” Towns said in April. “I’m not going to jinx it because nothing is given when you’re a Timberwolf. I’m just going to go along for the ride and continue to work on myself, my game and be the best player out there.”
Veterans such as Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Tolliver praised Saunders’ communication skill, calling it a rarity in the league.
“That’s not the norm. That’s just the unfortunate reality of the NBA,” Bayless said. “It’s the way it goes sometimes, but Ryan has been great. [General manager] Scott [Layden] has been great with me too, honestly. Can’t say anything negative about either of them.”
Added Tolliver: “Within the first week I think we had maybe three conversations, and I said in the last 10 years I think I’ve maybe had three individual conversations with coaches each year total. … It goes a long way.”
Rosas had no mandate when he was hired to keep either Saunders or general manager Scott Layden, whose future with the team is still unknown.
Rosas did make the addition of Pascucci to the front office. Pascucci and Rosas have a working history; Pascucci spent 10 seasons working in Houston, where Rosas was vice president. Pascucci was the Rockets’ vice president of player personnel and general manager of their G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.