The Timberwolves owe Tom Thibodeau $7 million for each of the next two seasons. Basically, that makes it a lock Ryan Saunders will be elevated from interim to head coach before he turns 33 on April 28.
The Wolves will make the case that Saunders has shown excellent head coaching potential in the three months since he replaced Thibodeau. He also has the endorsement of Karl-Anthony Towns, now as important to the also-ran Wolves as was Kevin Garnett when they were playoff regulars.
Behind the pro-Saunders rhetoric that will be forthcoming, there’s also the fact he figures to get a two-year, $4 million contract — and mostly because anything less than a couple of million per season would be an admission Ryan’s hiring was primarily because of money.
Another Minnesota guy, Dave Joerger from Staples, has done excellent work with the Sacramento Kings and would have been a more surefire hire. He also would have cost double what Saunders will be paid, and it’s now being reported that Joerger and his assistants will get a contract extension from the Kings.
A major issue is that Scott Layden, brought in as the general manager to assist Thibodeau, is still on the job. As with Thibs, he received a five-year contract, for a total of $10 million, and still would be owed $4 million if a change is made.
Leading options: Layden could stay, or Saunders could be announced before a new GM is hired.
Owner Glen Taylor has been known to lean on outside advice, and any doubts he had about Saunders might have been taken care of during Final Four week here in Minneapolis.
Michigan’s Tom Izzo, the best known and most accomplished of the competing coaches, gave a full-on endorsement of young Saunders during interview sessions Thursday and again Friday.
This wasn’t surprising, since Izzo was a pal of Flip Saunders, Ryan’s father, who had returned to become Taylor’s trusted man-in-charge before his death at age 61 on Oct. 25, 2015.
Izzo was asked on Friday about his relationship with Ryan:
“It’s grown. I was with him last night for a little bit. He’s so much like his dad, it’s scary. His mannerisms are unbelievable. I did spend some time with Flip and Ryan, when they were in Washington.
“… I was fortunate my dad lived to 91 years old, and Ryan wasn’t fortunate.
“I told him last night, you feel you lose out when your dad dies at 61 and you’ve got so much life to live. But [Flip] must have done a heck of a job, because this kid has got it.
“At this young age, he’s got it. Whether he can survive in this wacko profession we’re in, time will tell, but I like his chances. I love his demeanor and way he attacks the game.
“Even though we lost Flip, I think Ryan carries on the mantle who Flip was, who he still is really, and the impact he had the game of basketball.’’
There doesn’t seem much doubt Ryan Saunders is going to get that shot, at least while the Wolves are paying off Thibodeau.
• If the goal for this Wolves offseason is to move Andrew Wiggins and his giant contract, it’s going to take an experienced GM with the ability to navigate the NBA’s salary-cap maze, and that could be Layden.
• Question for Texas Tech fan: “Why did you fire a football coach [Kliff Kingsbury] that was good enough to land the Arizona job in the NFL?” Fan: “We loved Kliff. He just wasn’t right for the Raiders.” OK, then.
• It’s too good to be true that among the one-and-done kings of college basketball, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is suddenly under more scrutiny than Kentucky’s John Calipari.