After Monday’s practice, Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones was asked about what this final stretch of the team’s regular season could have meant if the team was still in the playoff mix.
Seven of nine at Target Center, games with the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Philadelphia and Portland.
“For sure it would have made it fun, much more interesting,” Jones said. “But at the same time we’re approaching it trying to win every game.”
The Wolves have been eliminated from the playoffs. Saunders, hoping to put himself in position to remove the interim from his head coaching title, has pushed the players he has available. He has continued to try to instill the culture he wants, assuming this will continue to be his team moving forward.
With nine games left Saunders said he will do some experimentation to see how some players — particularly rookie Keita Bates-Diop and Andrew Wiggins — fare in unusual situations. But mainly he is trying to build a team of which he — and his late father — would be proud.
To that end, Saunders was sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with WE on the front, a reference to a device Flip Saunders used.
“That was something my dad believed in,” Saunders said. “It’s something I believe in. And [something] a lot of these guys have still talked about. That mentality, the we over me. And so, I thought it was fitting to bring it back. A lot of guys are wearing the shirts. So you’d like to think they’re accepting of that mentality.”
Jones was one of the players wearing the shirt.
“It brings back great memories,” he said. “And it’s a good mind-set. Very cool for it to be back. Everybody is starting to see what it really means. And it is cool.”
More practically, Saunders said he will use some of the remaining games see how versatile some of his players can be.
“The roster, in terms of the injuries, it does hinder some of those things, in a big way,” he said. “But there are things with Keita, where he’s the type of guy you can move around a little bit, try to see what he can guard, and where he can play offensively, too.”
With Wiggins, Saunders might keep the ball in his hands more, as he has done recently. He might also look at Wiggins’ ability to guard bigger players, perhaps even stretch fours — power forwards adept at shooting from the perimeter.
“We’re competing,” Saunders said. “That’s how you pick up good habits.”
Both Jones on Monday and Karl-Anthony Towns during the recent road trip talked about Saunders’ impact on the team’s culture since he took over.
“You saw it early on,” Jones said. “Each day he’s trying to build the culture the right way, the way he wants it. Guys are buying in more and more. So it’s been fun.”
How? Sometimes little things, Jones said. What is stressed in practice, for example. “Doing more team bonding things,” he said. “Little stuff you might take for granted, but ends up adding up and making a difference.”
Towns said he sees progress being made.
“It’s getting better and better every day,” he said. “I think it’s still a work in progress, but I think one thing is we’re doing a great job of understanding the culture and believing in the culture.”
“It’s a way of living. Way of being a Timberwolf. Every single day we’re building that.”