MINNEAPOLIS – Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle believes Minnesota Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders will make a great head coach in the NBA.
Saunders took over the Timberwolves’ interim coaching duties this past Sunday after Minnesota fired coach Tom Thibodeau. Saunders is the son of former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who died on Oct. 25, 2015.
“Flip was a good friend of mine,” Carlisle said following Friday morning’s shootaround at the Target Center. “He was a guy that was so well-thought of universally by everyone in the game, by the coaching fraternity especially.
“He had an amazing way with people. Ryan has all of those same qualities. Now he has an amazing opportunity. After this dad passed I spent a lot of time with him over the last couple of years.”
Carlisle acknowledged the fact that basketball has always been a part of Ryan Saunders’ life gives him a decided advantage in his new job as the Timberwolves’ interim coach.
“He was born in the game and he’s been around great basketball people his whole life,” Carlisle said. “He has great knowledge of the game, but he also has seen how his dad cultivated relationships, put players in positions to succeed.
“He’s certainly taken note of all those things. I’ve watched him coach in many summer league situations and I’ve felt for many years that he was a future head coach in the making. This is something that’s certainly not surprising.”
Carlisle said because Saunders is just 32 years old has no bearing on whether or not he’s prepared for a job Carlisle believes he’s ready to handle. After all, Saunders has been on the Timberwolves’ coaching staff since 2014.
“These (Timberwolves players) know him,” Carlisle said. “He’s been here for many years now. His dad went through a couple of tough seasons here where they weren’t winning many games, they were drafting high.
“They drafted (Karl-Anthony) Towns, they traded for (Andrew) Wiggins. Flip made great moves to put this franchise in a position that they’re in now with a very exciting young core.”
The Timberwolves advanced to the playoffs last year and were beaten in the first round by the Houston Rockets in five games. So far this year, Minnesota has posted a 20-21 record.
“They’re in a position now to make a run,” Carlisle said. “But my feeling is that Ryan has so many of his dad’s great qualities and now he’s gaining a lot of experience in a very short period of time.”
Minnesota won Saunders’ debut game on Tuesday, an emotional 119-117 road victory at Oklahoma City. Saunders’ second game is Friday at 7 p.m. at the Target Center against the Mavs.
“It was pretty special it happened in Oklahoma City with them being able to win their first game on the road,” Carlisle said. “The scene in the locker room afterwards went viral, as it should have.
“Look, this is going to be a loud place tonight, no doubt about that.”