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Michael Rand: With Ryan Saunders fired and Chris Finch hired, all eyes on fixing Wolves offense

Michael Rand, Star Tribune on

Published in Basketball

Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas made the move late Sunday that he either could not or would not pull off nearly two years ago when he took over control of the team: he let go of Ryan Saunders as head coach and hired Chris Finch.

Rosas as hired in the spring of 2019. When deciding whether to remove the "interim" tag from Saunders' head coach title or make an outside hire, Rosas and the Wolves brought in Finch as part of the interview process.

Whether Rosas would have preferred at the time to hire Finch — a coach with whom he has a history dating to their time together in the Rockets organization — might never fully come to light. What we do know is that Saunders was hired as the permanent coach in May 2019, compiled a 43-94 record under far-from-ideal circumstances, and now Finch will take over midseason.

He comes straight form an assistant job with Toronto, one of the many unusual tentacles of this hire that I discussed on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast when I was joined by Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse.

If you don't see the podcast player, click here.

In making this move, Rosas bypassed a qualified in-house candidate: Wolves associate coach David Vanterpool, who has been in charge of a largely underachieving Wolves defense that nonetheless has been better lately.

More surprising perhaps is the degree to which the Wolves have struggled on offense since the interim tag was lifted from Saunders' title.

Minnesota finished No. 24 in offensive efficiency last season. This year they are No. 28 in efficiency at just 105.7 points per 100 possessions. Some of that can be explained by injuries, but not all of it.

This move obviously means a lot of eyes will be on Finch, who has never been an NBA head coach but carries with him a reputation as an offensive-minded coach.

 

"Chris brings a wealth of basketball experience from his time in the NBA, G League and Internationally," Rosas said in a statement Monday morning. The team later announced that Finch will be introduced to the media in a Zoom conference call at 5 p.m. Monday. "He is one of the most creative basketball minds in the NBA, has success maximizing players, and I am excited to see him bring our team to the next level and beyond."

We might not get a full sense of how Rosas or Finch's vision is playing out for several weeks yet as the Wolves wait for D'Angelo Russell to return to health.

The fact that franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns has only played five games with Russell since the blockbuster trade with Golden State more than a year ago is one reason that the timing of Saunders' firing is perhaps strange. Saunders had an interim year. Then a COVID-shortened season in which Rosas made a ton of trades. And now this strange compressed season marred by absences for both Towns and Russell.

Nevertheless, even without Russell in this next month we will likely see an even larger imprint of Rosas' offensive vision with Finch in charge.

If the Wolves improve in efficiency and start winning games, it will be a validation of the move and Rosas' master plan.

If not, particularly after Russell returns to health this year and presumably for next season? Well, that would be a pretty big problem considering the Wolves' heaviest investments are in offensive-minded players like Towns, Russell and Malik Beasley.

So as much as this is about Finch and to a large degree maximizing what Towns has to offer, the larger question isn't whether Saunders was the right coach two years ago or whether Finch is the right coach now.

Rather, it's whether what the Wolves are trying to accomplish was ever going to succeed in the first place.

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