Timberwolves Owner Sets Tone for 2021
The Timberwolves, with a 19-42 record, haven’t met the early season expectations of owner Glen Taylor who believed his team would make the 2020 playoffs as one of the NBA’s lower seeds. Instead, they have endured a 13-game losing streak this winter and won just four of their last 24 games.
Ryan Saunders, 33, had never been an NBA or college head coach prior to being named Tom Thibodeau’s replacement to lead the Wolves in January of 2019. He was interim head coach before being named permanently to the position in May of last year. His career record is 36-67 and Minnesota will finish the season in April with one of the NBA’s most dismal totals of wins and losses.
In a telephone interview with Sports Headliners yesterday, Taylor was asked about Saunders’ future. “I think he will be back (next season) for sure,” Taylor said.
Gersson Rosas, the president of basketball operations, shook up the roster in February and added eight new players. Taylor believes the revised personnel will be a better fit for Saunders’ coaching style that includes a fast offensive pace and emphasis on three-point shots. The owner wants to see how the team looks next season after Saunders and his coaching staff have a summer and a training camp to prepare players.
“I think next year our expectations will be higher,” Taylor said. “We will expect results that are significantly better than what we’ve gotten his year. But I think we have to give him (Saunders) that chance.”
The coaching staff has new assistants this season and Taylor empathizes with them and Saunders because of all the work they invest with minimal results in wins and losses. “…But I haven’t seen them pout or I haven’t seen them be negative, or do any of those things,” Taylor said. “They always say good things about the players. They say they’re really proud of what they’re doing. They’ve said they like all the new guys that we’ve brought (in).”
The Wolves won three straight games to open the season last fall. Minnesota was 7-4 after the first 11 games but losing set in partially because star center Karl-Anthony Towns was absent. He has missed the last eight games with a wrist injury and earlier in the season was out with a knee injury. He has been available for only 35 of the team’s 61 games, while averaging a career-best 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds.
There is speculation Towns is not committed to the Wolves organization, despite signing a five-year contract extension last September. He has been mentioned this winter in NBA trade rumors.
Taylor insists Towns is on board for the long term. Taylor said, “We talk about that. He just says, ‘You’re doing everything that I could ask for to enhance my ability to perform well, and therefore I want to stay with this team.’ ”
Towns and Taylor converse frequently. The owner said they have a relationship that dates back to the Wolves making Towns the No. 1 overall NBA draft choice in 2015. Taylor is friendly with not only Towns, but his family. Also, Taylor said Towns likes playing for Saunders, and is enthused about the revised roster that includes his friend D’Angelo Russell who joined the team in February. “He (Towns) wants to get out there (on court) really bad,” Taylor said.
Forbes.com lists the 2020 value of the Timberwolves franchise at $1.375 billion, ranking No. 28 among 30 clubs. Taylor bought the franchise in 1994 for $88 million but is not pursuing someone to buy him out. His observation over the years is NBA franchises sell for more than their Forbes valuation.
Would he give up the club for $2 billion? “Yeah, I’ll take it,” he said with amusement.
Taylor has several limited partners in his ownership group and said a few might want to sell. He has accepted inquiries since January 1 from “some parties” interested in replacing existing investors.
Brian Dutcher, the Bloomington, Minnesota native who is coaching the San Diego State Aztecs to a 29-1 record, was the subject of a USA Today major feature yesterday.
Hockey authority Kevin Gorg believes the Wild’s Kevin Fiala can become a 40 to 50 goal per season scorer. The 23-year-old forward is having a late winter breakout performance including four goals last week. “He’s been amazing,” Gorg told Sports Headliners.
For 58 seasons Ron Stolski coached football in Minnesota, teaching his players about the game he loves and lessons in life. Stolski, who coached 45 years at Brainerd High School, leaves a prep football legacy in the state and will be honored at a retirement celebration April 4 at Cragun’s Legacy Clubhouse in Brainerd.
Also a longtime leader of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, the 80-year-old Stolski has been a force in the campaign to make high school football in the state the best experience it can be for players and coaches. Whether it’s clinics, the All-Star Game, the Mr. Football Award or raising funds for cancer research, the Minneapolis native has been involved with varied impactful projects.
I have known Stolski for decades and I am grateful for his words of encouragement through the years. He will be remembered as one of the state’s longest tenured and winningest coaches with 389 career victories, but even more so for how he inspired and related to thousands of Minnesotans.
Rob Hunegs, owner of Twin Cities Sports Cards in Golden Valley, emailed that Yordan Alvarez (Astros), Bo Bichette (Blue Jays) and Gavin Lux (Dodgers) are hot rookies in the new Topps Series 1. Players from past decades are also in the series.
Dave Mona, the WCCO Radio “Sports Huddle” host, has been playing golf for more than 50 years and he shot the best round of his life recently, recording a 79 at the Westin Kierland Golf Club in Scottsdale.
Gophers fans have asked about featuring tight ends more in the team’s passing game. Coach P.J. Fleck said on last Sunday’s “Sports Huddle” the 2020 team has the tight end depth and talent to command more of the gameday playbook.
Phil Esten, St. Thomas athletic director, speaks to the Minnesota Breakfast group March 13 in Naples, Florida. Started 56 years ago by prominent Minnesotans vacationing in SW Florida, the group meets regularly during the winter and hears from Minnesota newsmakers in sports and other fields. Twins executives Dave St. Peter and Derek Falvey spoke February 21.