Saunders won his debut, earning high-fives and a celebratory locker room dousing from players who often avoided eye contact with predecessor Tom Thibodeau. Liked and respected throughout the organization, Saunders will be given every opportunity to prove he can handle the job. For an organization that has been able to celebrate few sweet stories over the years, Saunders winning with a roster that his late father helped build would provide perhaps the foremost highlight of the team’s past 15 years.
Picking from a coaching staff lacking obvious head coaching candidates, Saunders was an easy choice. He has built a rapport with the players, knows where Thibodeau was failing, and gives the Wolves a chance at a rare, seamless transitions.
In isolation, Saunders’ story is heartwarming. Invoke Reeve’s name and the story becomes less so.
Compare these résumés:
Candidate 1: 52-year-old four-time WNBA champion head coach. Two-time WNBA Coach of the Year. Four years as college head coach, improving the team’s winning percentage each year. Nine years as WNBA assistant coach, winning two league titles. Two-time All-Star Game head coach. Currently Lynx general manager as well as head coach. Rhodes Scholar nominee. Key figure in USA Basketball.
Candidate 2: 32-year-old with no previous head coaching experience. Hired by father to assistant coaching positions with two NBA teams.
The age of Candidate 2, Saunders, shouldn’t be seen as disqualifying, but his lack of experience would keep him from being a serious head coaching candidate for any other NBA franchise, and possibly for the Wolves if they hadn’t needed to make a midseason change.
Disclosure: Lynx and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor owns the Star Tribune. I host a podcast with Reeve — “The Cheryl Reeve Show” on TalkNorth.com.
Taylor did not respond to a text asking for his thoughts on this column. Reeve said this:
“I was saying to Ryan that I watched that game against Oklahoma City as if it was Game 7 of a playoff series. That’s how much passion and energy, that was the environment around the game. I think so many people were pulling for Ryan and the guys, myself included.
“It was an unfortunate situation to be thrown into, for sure. I can’t imagine the emotion that Ryan had. This is a team that Ryan’s father had put together, and to be able to take over the team, I imagine there’s so much excitement, and a level of anxiety, and adrenaline.
“I watched practice today and he’s just bursting with energy and enthusiasm. He wants the guys to have fun. He wants them to play hard, be accountable for little things, and we’re all pulling for Ryan to finish this season out in a way that lands the Wolves in the playoffs and see what they can do when they get there.”
Should she be a candidate for the job? “The only thing I’ll say is that I certainly appreciate being thought of, but my mind is solely on Ryan and wanting him to do well, wanting, for Glen Taylor, for this to go well. That’s all I think about. I appreciate being thought of. That’s a sign of what our team has done through the years and I’m grateful for that. But my thoughts are with Ryan.”
There should be a female head coach in the NBA in the near future. Becky Hammon and Kristi Toliver are NBA assistant coaches. Reeve is the winningest coach in WNBA history.
Everyone is pulling for Saunders, but in a future or fairer universe, he would be an assistant to Reeve.
Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org