Ryan Saunders didn’t sleep much Monday night. He watched his team make dubious history in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, and was awake when his baby started crying early Tuesday morning.
I asked Saunders about his night and he asked me, with a smile, “What, you saw the bags under my eyes?”
Lucas Philip Saunders is 7 months old. Only those with Lucas’ limited perspective should be allowed to pretend that the biggest collapse in franchise history was teeming with meaning.
The Wolves became the first team since such data was tracked, in 1996, to lose a game they led by 17 or more points with less than three minutes remaining.
That game offered reason to be embarrassed.
It did not signal a time to panic.
If you’re a Wolves fan, you’re a little late for that.
If panic is your go-to move, you have already filled your punch card with perforations dating from 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2017, 2018 and even last year.
So instead of rehashing the bizarre nature of the Kings’ comeback, or dredging up oft-repeated anecdotes that exemplify Wolves history, what fans need today is perspective. So …
1. Don’t even pretend this was the worst loss in franchise history. That came in Game 6 of the 2004 Western Conference finals against the Lakers. Had Sam Cassell not injured himself with a silly celebration, the Wolves could have won that series. It is a testament to Flip Saunders’ heart that he had Cassell ruin his only shot at an NBA title and get him fired the next year over a contract dispute, and then later hire him as an assistant coach.
2. Let us also not pretend that a Monday night in January against the Kings was the worst basketball moment in Wolves history. High on the shortlist: Cassell’s injury, the trading of Kevin Garnett for the equivalent of a G-League team, the drafting of Jonny Flynn instead of Steph Curry, and the trade for Malibu Jimmy Butler.
3. What this particular Wolves team needs is a point guard who can lead. The Wolves’ first draft pick ever was point guard Pooh Richardson. Their biggest disappointment was point guard Stephon Marbury. Now they have lost Tyus Jones in free agency, have traded Jeff Teague and are playing Shabazz Napier as their starter at the point. Three-point shooting is their greatest statistical void, but not having someone who can translate plans into action on the court is their greatest real-world flaw.
4. There is a stealth benefit to all of this losing: Realizing they were not one player away from the promised land, especially if that player was D’Angelo Russell.
5. The trade of Teague was necessary, even if Alan Crabbe isn’t much of a return. Gersson Rosas and Saunders are trying to remake a roster that was built for Tom Thibodeau’s grind-it-out, half-court style. Teague wasn’t good enough for Thibs and he was awful for Saunders. Now comes the tricky part: Figuring out what deal to make next.
Can you get value for Gorgui Dieng, or can he be incorporated into this lineup in a way that makes him valuable? If they trade Robert Covington, won’t they immediately begin a search to find a similar player?
This summer, Rosas will have to make decisions on Dieng, Covington and Andrew Wiggins, and will have to provide Saunders with a functional roster. We won’t know much about this operation until next summer at the earliest.
6. If there is a faction of the fan base that wants to fire Saunders, that is understandable but misguided. The Wolves decided to hire a young, inexperienced head coach, then gave him players who can’t do what he wants done. You can argue they should have hired someone else. This is not the time to argue that they should bring in someone else. Firing Saunders would smack of scapegoating and desperation. What the Wolves need today, even after an embarrassing loss, is patience and perspective, no matter how stale those words must feel to an embittered fan base.