The firing of Ryan Saunders can't be viewed as surprising, except that firing him immediately after he lost a close game to his predecessor is all kinds of awkward, even for an organization as familiar with losing and awkwardness as the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Saunders replaced Tom Thibodeau as Timberwolves coach. On Sunday night, Saunders lost to Thibodeau's New York Knicks and later was fired by the Timberwolves.
That sequence sums up Wolves history: They blew up their long-term plans by hiring Thibodeau, made it to one playoff series, then fired Thibodeau and hired Saunders to resume their long-term planning, and then blew up that plan because it wasn't a very good plan to begin with.
The 2020-21 Wolves have performed horribly, losing close game after close game, and while a Timberwolves team losing horribly is nothing new, there was a twist in this strange season. This losing Timberwolves team is filled with players who are better than hopeless, and Saunders pasted those pieces into something resembling a half-hearted third-grade science project.
Chris Finch, who knows Wolves General Manager Gersson Rosas from their time together in Houston, will replace Saunders, and while Finch doesn't have NBA head coaching experience, at least he has been a high-level assistant on winning teams. Finch is a mystery, but a mystery in this case is better than what had become a certainty.
The most surprising aspect of Saunders being fired is that he was in position to be fired as an NBA head coach to begin with. He was hired because of owner Glen Taylor's affinity for his father, and because of the family name.
Saunders as an NBA head coach was a bad idea that played out poorly, like most of Wolves history.
It's not Saunders' fault. He got the job when he had precious little experience as a coach, and no history as a head coach.
One underappreciated aspect of the NBA is how good the average coach is. It's a league of second-by-second adjustments and massive player ego and influence and you can be a pretty good coach and fail miserably. At this point, the nicest thing anybody could say about Saunders' tenure is that it came too soon for him to succeed.
While this Wolves team has faced the usual level of bad luck, it is one of the more intriguing bad teams in franchise history. There is talent here.
Every coach in the league would want Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels could soon be considered to comprise one of the best draft days in franchise history. Naz Reid is at least a quality backup center. Malik Beasley has been the shooting guard this team has needed for years, and the team's role players generally play their roles well.
Are they ready to win? Not without Towns and D'Angelo Russell healthy at the same time. But they shouldn't be losing every close game, and losing even when their best players perform well. The Timberwolves can't afford to waste any more of Towns' time.
What bad franchises do is overreact to their previous mistakes. So they went from a power-hungry, grumpy authoritarian in Thibodeau to a nice guy the players and front office liked in Saunders.
If the Wolves could do it over again, and do it right, they should have hired Thibodeau or another veteran coach and paired him with a general manager who could keep a veteran coach like Thibs in his lane.
They should have avoided trading for Jimmy Butler unless Butler was willing to immediately sign a long-term deal. They should have kept Zach LaVine and traded Andrew Wiggins and seen what LaVine and Towns could do together.
Instead, the Wolves hired an inexperienced general manager (Thibodeau), then an inexperienced head coach (Saunders) to work under a first-time general manager. What could go wrong?
Saunders' losing allowed Rosas to finally hire his own coach, someone with whom he has shared experience and philosophies.
It's so obviously the right way to do business that it remains a mystery why it wasn't the plan all along.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org