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The “Ryan Saunders Era” is Officially Underway. Who are the Key Winners and Losers?

With Tom Thibodeau officially put on ice, it’s time to look at the main winners (and losers) of the new regime change.

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

If you were living under a rock this last week, you may have missed some fairly interesting news pertaining to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, after two and a half grueling seasons, the Wolves finally put Tom Thibodeau on ice, ending a tumultuous run as the team’s Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations.

Since then, we’ve covered about every possible angle of the regime change here at CH — from revisiting the highs and lows of Thibs’ tenure, to analyzing Coach Saunders’ ability to (finally) turn things around, and finally a fantastic piece by Eric detailing the true underlying issues embedded into the heart of the franchise.

What more can be said this week about the transition of power from Tom Thibodeau to Ryan Saunders that hasn't already been mentioned? Well, for me personally, any time a major transaction happens in sports, it’s imperative to do one such thing — rapidly anoint “winners and losers” of said transaction before the process actually plays itself out.



Let’s start out with a no-brainer. Despite a sprinkling of older veterans on the roster, the core of the Wolves foundation is still extremely young — primarily next season’s projected starting lineup of Dario Saric (24), Andrew Wiggins (23), Karl-Anthony Towns (23), Tyus Jones (22), and Josh Okogie (20). An average age of just 22-years-old would put the Wolves near or at the top of the youngest starting lineups in the Association. (Late edit: Sorry, I somehow forgot Robert Covington in the starting lineup and RoCo will obviously be starting on the wing over Okogie. But my point still stands!)

Back to millennials for a second ... we all know that this group of people (myself included) are caught up ruining everything in the world, but when we aren’t busy killing brunch, the housing market, or department stores, we really do enjoy a certain type of leadership — open, communicative, trusting, and patient. Same can be said for the Wolves, who suddenly find themselves with a new general (no, not that general) who promotes trust and understanding, rather than a raspy voice box that repeats phrases like “grinding” and “doing your job” over and over again.

One game into the Saunders Era and we’ve already seen a glimpse of what the new approach can do for Andrew Wiggins, but another moment that really stood out to me this week was a quote from Jon Krawczynski’s latest piece on The Athletic, when Saunders pulled Saric aside after subbing him out and told him “I’m gonna get you back in, and you’re gonna hit a big 3.”

Or how about this latest quote yesterday from Tyus Jones, whose basketball career was stifled upon the arrival of Thibs back in 2016:

As corny (and simple) as it may sound, building up your players’ confidence with reassurance and trust goes just as far (if not farther) in today’s NBA than a cluttered alphabet soup of X’s and O’s. Empowering the decision makers on the court is a refreshing (and logical) first step for Coach Saunders.

Men’s Wearhouse

Speaking of Coach Saunders, have you seen his drip? His swag? I mean, just look at this dude’s suit game:

Ryan faces many tall tasks as he embraces his new promotion to NBA Head Coach, but none may be steeper than attempting to unleash 82 nights of unique fashion excellence that this league has rarely seen.

Spotify Premium

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Minnesota Timberwolves got rid of a disliked, loud-mouthed individual, and rewarded themselves by playing music at practice. Don’t believe me? Check out the first practice after Jimmy Butler was traded back in November:

Fast forward to yesterday, and surprise surprise, guess what is bumping through the speakers at Mayo Clinic Square after the departure of another combative former employee?

Don’t judge Andrew here for the mental slip up — after all, some people have good memories and some people have sh*tty ones. Nevertheless, installing music at practice is another simple yet innovative way for Saunders to establish a freer, more enjoyable environment, one that will hopefully allow him to connect deeper with his players, something his predecessor failed to do.


Let’s face it — being a fan of a perennial bottom-feeding team that is constantly in a state of rebuild leaves little ability to see the glass half-full. My past memories of optimism usually resolved around truly dismal events — like only falling two spots in the lottery and not three, or only losing to Kobe-led Lakers at home by 12 and not 22.

When Tom Thibodeau arrived back in 2016, we thought we had a new sense of true optimism to latch on to (despite the numerous red-flags that followed Thibs from Chicago to Minneapolis). The franchise loaded with young talent, good draft picks, and a plethora of cap space finally found a winner to bring them out of the darkness and into a “new age.” Fast forward to now, and one would argue that steady optimism from 2016 is now dead and gone, thrown away like much of the cap space and beloved players inherited by Thibs when he took over.

And yet, something about this week, this coach feels different. Maybe it’s the familiarity of the last name, or the eerily similar facial mannerisms of the new Head Coach that most people haven’t seen since the franchise was reinvigorated back in 2014:

Whatever the case, this situation does indeed breathe new optimism, at least for me personally. The Wolves have young talent. The Wolves have draft picks. The Wolves have cap space (OK just forget that part). Despite the extremely disappointing results of the brief Thibodeau era, there still remains so many positive factors in place that you can’t help but feel renewed and optimistic going forward.


The Throat Lozenge Industry

The list of things I won’t miss about Tom Thibodeau is ever-growing, but atop that list is having to hear his raspy scream inundate my NBA League Pass for 48-minutes a night, regardless of if the Wolves are up 20 or down 20. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment:

Korn Ferry

Thanks for nothing, nerds.

9-Man Rotations

Remember back in training camp when then-Head Coach Tom Thibodeau stated the team HAD to “settle into a 9-man rotation” for some unforeseen reason that was never fully explained to us simple #blogboys?

Well, R.I.P. to that philosophy, according to now-Head Coach Ryan Saunders:

Opening up your rotation to include more talented players is an extremely bold move, Cotton. I’m anxious to see if it pays off.

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The term “TimberBulls”

R.I.P. to that uncreative, extremely-overused term. You will not be missed.

Did I miss anything? If so, add your winners and losers below and I’ll try to pick my favorite ones.