OKLAHOMA CITY -- Already Ryan Saunders has it down.
In his first post-shootaround meeting with the press, about to conduct his first NBA game as a head coach, with the history of the Saunders family with the Timberwolves organization as an emotional backdrop, Saunders was asked what will be going through his mind in the moments before Tuesday night’s tipoff against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Russell Westbrook and Paul George are going to be there,’’ said Saunders, talking about the Thunder’s stars, sounding just like the coach he is. “But my father will also be there.’’
On Monday Ryan said his father, Flip Saunders, who died in 2015, would be proud. Tuesday, operating on very little sleep, Ryan Saunders started getting about the business of coaching the Wolves.
In a way, the immediacy of having to focus on an opponent so quickly after the events of the weekend -- when Tom Thibodeau was fired Sunday evening and Saunders, 32, was promoted to interim head coach -- is a good thing.
He has begun putting thoughts of how he wants to steer the team on paper, he said, but he’s not going to flood this team with too much. Moderation, he said, is the key.
“I’ve said it a number of times,’’ he said. “But until you’re ultimately making the decisions, all those ideas sound great. But then you have to see them play out. So I’ll be careful in terms of how much I want to implement.’’
Saunders had one-on-one meetings with every player Monday and also talked to the team. Players who feel strongly about something will have a voice, but Saunders stressed that he and the coaching staff will make the decisions.
He has been inundated with messages and calls, but has made a point of only responding to people within the organization and his family. It’s time to focus on his new job.
Saunders said he has communicated with Tom Thibdeau. “We’ve had back-and-forth,’’ he said. “But I’m going to keep that between me and him.’’
More than anything, Saunders sounded like a guy ready for a game to be played.
“It’s been an hour-by-hour thing for me,’’ he said. “So I’m going on not a ton of sleep. You have a lot of different, mixed emotions with things. I’m really just looking forward to being around the guys today, just moving forward tonight.’’
After the morning shoot Tyus Jones had some interesting things to say about his new head coach:
--On the mood of the team: “Guys are rallying around each other, rallying around Ryan, trying to bring fresh energy. Just ready to go, ready for a new start. Yeah, we’re ready to go.’’
--On how he thinks Saunders will handle the job: “He’s going to be great. I think he’s prepared a long time for this moment. Everyone believes in him, respects him, trusts him. And everyone is going to play really hard and have his back.’’
--On how the team will move forward with its new coach: “Whatever Ryan feels he’s going to change, no matter what it is, that’s what we’re going with. That’s what we’re going to believe in, support 100 percent. He’s in charge now, so we’re going with him. We’re riding with him, and that’s as simple as I can put it. Everyone trusts him, believes in him. That’s what we’re doing here.’’