If a year ago one asked Timberwolves assistant Bryan Gates which sideline he would be on in Thursday’s game between the Wolves and Kings, he would have said Sacramento.
Last season, the Kings were one of the up-and-coming teams, in Gates’ third season on David Joerger’s staff.
Then life in the NBA came at Gates quickly — for the second time.
Despite a promising season, the Kings fired Joerger, who didn’t see eye to eye with the front office. It was similar to what happened to Gates in New Orleans, when he felt the Pelicans were headed toward a bright future with Anthony Davis.
But then that came to an end when the team fired Monty Williams in 2015.
“I don’t get over things very well, and I’m disappointed it didn’t work out in Sacramento,” Gates said. “The biggest part is, I’m proud of what we did. I felt the same way when I was in New Orleans. … You can pound your head and ask yourself why. Or dive into where you’re going to next. It happened twice and both times I ended back up in Minnesota.”
Gates is making his second go-round with the Wolves. His first came in 2015-16 when he was on staff with Ryan Saunders on his dad Flip’s staff. Then came Flip’s passing before that season, and it brought everyone on the team closer with Ryan, including Gates, who a few years prior had dealt with his mother’s death. So when Saunders got the job permanently in Minnesota, Gates was available and only too happy to come back.
“It was just kind of like all the moon and stars aligned,” Gates said. “It was too easy of a fit not to do it. My kids love the snow. They remember the snow. They were only 4 then. They think the snow was awesome.”
His kids. There are three, Kendall, Preston and William — and they are all 8 years old. Gates and his wife, Robin, had the surprise of their lives when he was in New Orleans and Robin found out she was going to have triplets.
“I just remember asking my wife, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Gates said of adjusting to the additions. “She’s like, well, ‘I don’t know.’ We just kind of decided we’ll figure it out.”
That they did, and they made multiple moves when the kids were young.
“It’s just an adventure,” Gates said. “I don’t know how much we can sell that.”
Added Saunders, who just had his first son in June: “Every time I say something about my little guy not sleeping he reminds me that he had triplets. It really puts me in my place.”
But Gates has a positive, enthusiastic energy around him that comes off anytime you run into him at the arena. It’s that energy the infused the challenge of raising triplets and is one of the reasons why Saunders and the players like having him on staff.
“It’s very contagious,” said Robert Covington, who works closely with Gates in individual work. “A guy like him, it’s going to add value. It adds value to a team because days when you’re not feeling like yourself, you need someone like him that can bring that extra little bit and teams that are successful, they have that guy.”
Gates, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who attended Boise State, had ties to others in the Wolves organization aside from Saunders.
He has known President Gersson Rosas for a long time through working in the Canadian Basketball Association, and offered Rosas some advice when he was about to have twins a few years ago.
“I just told him do whatever his wife told him to do,” Gates said. “When you get home and she hands them to you because she’s had it that day, you just say, ‘Yes ma’am.’ ”
Gates, who was a two-time G-League coach of the year with the Idaho Stampede, was with associate head coach David Vanterpool on the staff of the Canadian national team in 2015. Andrew Wiggins played for that team, which also had former Wolves forward Anthony Bennett. It was through coaching them that Gates got to know Flip Saunders better, and Saunders then brought him to Minnesota the first time.
Gates works with players such as Covington and Jarrett Culver while also helping with game plans and scouting of future opponents. Covington, who has the reputation of being one of the best defensive players in the league, said he enjoys talking defense with Gates.
“His mind-set is crazy,” Covington said. “Some of the things he sees … he showed me a lot of different things, and having a guy like him that has been around for a very long time, that sees a lot of different things and has a different mind-set on things is tremendous for us.”
Covington said there were some “trade secrets” he and Gates discuss that he couldn’t divulge, but he said their film sessions usually end up with Covington learning something new.
“He definitely has helped me see different things on a different scale,” Covington said.
The Wolves will be looking to end their 11-game losing streak against Gates’ former team. In a different world, he might still be coaching for Sacramento, but he at least sees a similar team trajectory with the Wolves.
He sees a team primed for the future, even if things aren’t going great in this particular moment.
“We understand and we respect what’s happened here before,” Gates said. “But you always want to do your own mark, and I think there’s been a lot of respect for the staff that’s been here previously and you learn and move on. … I think Gerss and Ryan have built a staff that everybody is on the same page and everybody respects each other’s opinions and we have some great dialogue. We have some long dialogue. The constant communication is refreshing from top to bottom.”