NBA

Raptors assistant coach leaves team to become head coach of Timberwolves

Minnesota hired former Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch as head coach on Monday just hours after the Timberwolves fired Ryan Saunders following Sunday night's loss to the New York Knicks.

Chris Finch takes over in Minnesota after Ryan Saunders fired on Sunday

New Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch is part of the first coaching change that has been made since the season began. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Chris Finch is the new coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team announced Monday after dismissing Ryan Saunders the previous night.

Saunders was fired Sunday after the team with the NBA's worst record this season lost for the eighth time in the last nine games. The team quickly hired Finch, who was in his first season as an assistant with the Toronto Raptors.

"Chris brings a wealth of basketball experience from his time in the NBA, G League and Internationally," Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said. "He is one of the most creative basketball minds in the NBA, has success maximizing players, and I am excited to see him bring our team to the next level and beyond."

At 7-24, Minnesota has the league's worst record this season and already is 7 1/2 games out of what would be the final play-in spot for the Western Conference post-season. The Timberwolves next play on Tuesday, visiting Milwaukee.

"We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future," Rosas said. "These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization's short and long-term goals."

Key players sidelined

It had been a wildly disappointing season for the Timberwolves, who started 2-0 and haven't had much to savour since. Karl-Anthony Towns, the team's best player, dislocated his left wrist in the season's second game and missed six games, returned and missed 13 more after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

D'Angelo Russell, the other key piece for the Timberwolves, had surgery last week on his left knee and may be out until April.

There was no sign the Timberwolves had stopped playing for Saunders; they were down by 21 points in the third quarter at New York earlier Sunday, then took the lead in the final minutes before falling 103-99.

"Unfortunately we ran out of time," Saunders said after that loss.

He was talking about the game.

Before long, that sentence had a very different meaning.

Connection to Rosas

Finch has history with Rosas, working together with the Houston Rockets. He coached the team's affiliate in what is now called the G League, winning a championship with Rio Grande Valley, then became a Rockets assistant. He went on to have assistant jobs in Denver and New Orleans and was hired by the Raptors in November.

"I look forward to working hand and hand with Gersson to build and lead a team Timberwolves fans will be proud of," Rosas said. "We have excellent pieces in place and I can't wait to get to work."

Saunders, the 34-year-old son of longtime Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was with the Timberwolves for parts of three seasons, going 43-94. Flip Saunders died in 2015.

Dismissing Saunders was the first coaching change in the league since this season began. There were nine coaches in new jobs entering this season.

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