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Taylor Hopeful Saunders Keeps Job

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March 10, 2019

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In a telephone interview with Sports Headliners, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor made his feelings known about interim head coach Ryan Saunders.

Is the 32-year-old who took over for Tom Thibodeau in early January a strong candidate to have the job on a permanent basis after this season ends? “Certainly,” answered Taylor.

So there’s a good chance Saunders becomes the head coach this spring?

“I think that’s fair,” Taylor said. “He is sure the leading candidate at this point because we haven’t talked to anybody (else). I am not sure (if others will be interviewed); we’ll see how that ends up at the end of the year, but I certainly want to give him every opportunity we can.”

Saunders’ record as interim coach is 12-14 going into tonight’s home game against the Knicks. While the record is under .500 and the team is a long shot to make the playoffs, Taylor takes an understanding view toward Saunders.

Injuries have characterized this season for the Wolves, and Taylor pointed out since Saunders has been directing the team there has yet to be a game when his five preferred starters were all available. Even now elite defender and forward Robert Covington isn’t recovered from a knee injury and last night the team’s Western Conference All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns couldn’t finish the game because of a knee problem.

The team’s struggles include a leaky defense. In each of the last six games Minnesota has given up 120 points or more, with opponents four times scoring 130 or more. Taylor believes an offseason and training camp with more teaching time would allow Saunders to achieve better defensive results next season.

“I think that Ryan has been working…to change (improve) the defense but I am realistic in that he probably needs…a summer program to change things,” Taylor said. “I talked to him about it.”

Taylor describes himself as “encouraged” by Saunders’ job performance. Things that have made an impression on the owner include play calls, ball movement, pace of play and communications.

Saunders’ father Flip, who died in 2015, is the winningest coach in Wolves franchise history. The communications skills of both father and son are evident to Taylor. “I just think that’s very important,” Taylor said. “He (Ryan) is open to ideas and trying things. I already see that in our talks…similar with Flip.

“Before a game started I used to talk to Flip about what are you going to do against this team? Flip had a plan and he could share it with you.”

Ryan is the youngest head coach in the NBA in 40 years. He refers to the owner as “Mr. Taylor.” Yet Saunders seems to have the respect of his players and certainly that of the owner. Much of that has to do with 10 years of NBA experience previously as an assistant coach, and growing up as the son of a successful and intense basketball father.

“He’s just got a great basketball mind,” Taylor said of Ryan. “He learned a lot from his dad.”

Taylor was fond of Flip and has known Ryan for a long time. The personal feelings of Taylor are evident toward Saunders who has never been a head coach before.

“…I am hopeful that it all works out for Ryan because I like him as a person particularly, and I want all our people (in the organization) to be successful,” Taylor said.

Worth Noting

Towns scored 40 points and had 16 rebounds in the team’s win over the Wizards last night. It was his 43rd double-double of the season and his third 40-plus point performance, all of which have come in the last five games. “Certainly, I am just really pleased with Karl and what he has done,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s Minnesota Lynx, who have won four WNBA championships, will be without Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen this season. Their departures, the owner said, mean “people have to be a little patient” as the club reorganizes.

The boys’ state hockey tournament never disappoints for entertainment and storylines. The energy of players was typified by Eden Prairie, a group that played three overtimes before winning on Thursday, and in the Class 2A title game Saturday night lost in overtime to Edina.

The Class 1A Friday overtime game with top-seeded Mahtomedi and Greenway was a classic metro versus small town matchup. “I don’t think it gets that loud (crowd noise) for a Wild game,” an observer told Sports Headliners.

Greenway won Friday, but lost the Class 1A title matchup to St. Cloud Cathedral, the first time a St. Cloud school has won a state tournament hockey title. To win that championship in a seemingly ever-improving Class 1A was impressive.

Pat McKenzie, coach of the Saint John’s men’s basketball team that advanced to the Division III NCAA Tournament earlier this month, speaks to the CORES lunch group Thursday at the Bloomington Event Center, 1114 American Blvd. For reservations and other information, contact Jim Dotseth by tomorrow, dotsethj@comcast.net.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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