Scoggins: With Saunders gone, Wolves officially Rosas' mess to clean up on his own

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Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune
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The punching bag has been removed. That easy target after every blowout or close loss, the young coach who clearly was overmatched by the job and probably should have never been put in that position to begin with, knowing this experiment was doomed to fail. Because it always fails with this sad-sack organization.

The spotlight now shifts to a level higher in the organizational flowchart. This becomes Gersson Rosas' mess entirely. He has his coach, his roster, his hand-picked front office, his philosophy on style of play, and his rear end on the line now that he has fired Ryan Saunders.

The clock is ticking. On Rosas. On Karl-Anthony Towns. On the whole operation. But especially Rosas, the Timberwolves president of basketball operations whose brief tenure has been nothing short of chaotic.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor handed Rosas the keys to his organization in the spring of 2019, and Rosas has instituted an extreme makeover. One certainly can argue that a teardown was justifiable since this franchise puts the "fun" in dysfunctional. Fun as in slapstick.

The latest bizarro moment came Sunday night when Rosas made a decision that qualifies as a really bad look. He sent Saunders on a road trip and then fired him after a loss — ironically, to a coach that the organization had previously fired because people thought he was too mean — and then hired an assistant coach from another team five minutes later.

To paraphrase George Bush, that was some weird stuff.

Rosas loves to talk about the "family" nature of his organizational cocoon. Saunders might have a different opinion on that one.

In a Monday evening zoom call with reporters, Rosas laid out a timeline of hiring Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch as something that happened almost spur of the moment. Sorry, not buying it. It's incredibly naive to believe this plan hadn't been percolating for some time behind Saunders' back.

Why didn't Rosas promote David Vanterpool, a highly regarded assistant, as interim coach for the rest of the season instead of displaying terrible optics in hiring a coach from another team so quickly in the middle of the season?

Rosas said he lacked confidence that promoting any current Wolves assistant would change the team's trajectory. Here's another plausible reason: He didn't want to risk the team showing improvement under Vanterpool, which would create pressure on Rosas to make him the full-time coach after the season.

Finch is his guy, so much so that Rosas didn't even bother with the traditional hiring process, which undoubtedly will stir negative reaction in league circles for the lack of diversity in the candidate pool.

Keeping Saunders beyond this season realistically was not an option. Yes, he encountered some unfortunate situations, particularly with injuries, but there is no real defense of his record or in-game coaching decisions. Being a nice guy does not count. He simply wasn't ready to be an NBA head coach.

But let's remember, Saunders didn't hire himself. Rosas made that call, presumably with strong input (or edict) from Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune.

Rosas has torn apart and rebuilt a roster that currently owns the worst record in the NBA. He brought back Ricky Rubio (and his $17 million salary), and Rubio has been a bust. The commitment to "defensive integrity" remains an unfulfilled talking point.

Towns talked after Sunday's loss about building a legacy in Minnesota, which is a worthy objective predicated on two factors: His willingness to make the investment required to become a complete player, and Rosas' ability to surround him with better complementary pieces.

Towns says all the right things about winning in Minnesota and his loyalty to the organization, but star players dictate terms in the NBA. Whenever a star gets fed up with his situation and wants to move, the outcome is sealed. The rest is just paperwork.

The Wolves cannot afford to have Towns reach that conclusion. One person can only take so much constant losing and organizational dysfunction before change is necessary.

Rosas has put his stamp on every facet of the organization. This is his operation through and through. If things don't change, quickly and drastically, there will be no one else to blame.

chip.scoggins@startribune.com