MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves will make hiring a new president of basketball operations their first offseason priority.
The Timberwolves announced Wednesday before their final game of the season in Denver they will start an immediate search for a front office leader, with the fates of general manager Scott Layden and interim head coach Ryan Saunders yet to be decided. The team said it has no timeline for completing the hire.
Tom Thibodeau, who was fired Jan. 6, held the dual role of president of basketball operations and head coach for 2½ seasons, one game short of the halfway point of his contract. Layden stayed on in charge of the roster, and Saunders was promoted to run the team. Owner Glen Taylor said then he would evaluate Layden and Saunders over the balance of the season before determining whether they would return.
In a statement distributed by the team, Taylor thanked Layden, Saunders and the rest of the basketball staff for navigating through the challenge of such a significant midseason change.
"They worked through a season with many injuries requiring many challenges in our player lineup. We are incredibly grateful to them for all of their hard work and commitment to the franchise," Taylor said. "The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves continues to be very bright. It's more important than ever that we find a leader who can build a successful team in today's fast-paced NBA. We have the cornerstones of a very talented team and need to assemble the final pieces that will elevate us into a playoff team and one that can compete for championships."
After the Wolves made the playoffs last season for the first time in 14 years, the spotlight shone on Thibodeau and Layden as brightly as any authority figure in the league at the beginning of this season when All-Star Jimmy Butler requested a trade. Acquiring Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless from Philadelphia for Butler gave the Timberwolves a quality return, but Covington suffered a bone bruise on his right knee after playing in 22 games. He was eventually shut down.
That made the evaluation of Saunders more complicated, with injuries to Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague and others piled up on top of Covington.
After the Wolves went 19-21 under Thibodeau, they were 17-24 under Saunders entering the finale against the Nuggets. Taylor, however, has long been close to Saunders after hiring his father, Flip Saunders, as an executive and then a coach at two different stages of the franchise's star-crossed history. All the public comments Taylor has made have pointed to retaining the 32-year-old Ryan Saunders beyond this season.
Saunders said before the game that he was savoring the moment, but not because it could be his last game in charge.
"There's a lot of could-be, would-be last moments in anything, whether it be in sports, whether it be in life, you never know," Saunders said. "I've learned that over the last few years since going through some loss that you need to enjoy each moment."
Saunders said the team's search for a new president won't affect the way he heads into the offseason, either.
"It really does not change anything for me one bit. When I accepted this post in early January, I approached it as I'm the head coach until they tell me I'm not the head coach," Saunders said. "And that's how I continue to look at things moving forward."
The gig is a good one, whether it's ultimately his or someone else's, he added.
"I think we have a lot of things that are going in the right direction, I really do. And you look at some cornerstone pieces, you look at young players. We have a good situation here and ... these guys have competed as of late, and I think that's a big credit to the character that we have in that locker room."