MEMPHIS – If there’s anybody in the NBA who knows what Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders is going through, it’s Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
Bickerstaff, a fellow former Gophers player, had the interim tag attached to his name last season before the Grizzlies lifted that designation in the offseason.
Bickerstaff said being an interim coach brings a lot of challenges that aren’t easy to navigate, especially if you want to install changes.
“The timing of it all, the lack of preparation time, trying to figure out how to make a shift if you’re trying to make a shift, how you get it in with practice days … so few and far between,” Bickerstaff said. “When you are an interim, you think you have an idea of what you want to do, but in the middle of the season flipping the switch to that is unfair to the guys you’re coaching.”
Bickerstaff, the son of former NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff, got to know Saunders around the time Saunders was at the University of Minnesota and said a paper Saunders did about being the son of a coach helped the pair bond. They have stayed in touch since.
One of the most important pieces of advice Bickerstaff gave Saunders was to “stay true to yourself.”
“Whatever your style is, you have to be true to that,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s so many things coming at you, so if you’re trying to navigate things that aren’t necessarily true to you, it makes it even more difficult. So whatever situations come your way, trust your gut.”
The hectic schedule doesn’t make that easy, Bickerstaff said.
“Everything is on the fly,” Bickerstaff said. “You got to coach on the fly, teach on the fly, what you decide to do as far as your daily routine, what time you do shootaround, what time you have your meetings, what type of film do you watch before the game? All those things are decisions you have to make now.”
For Saunders, it’s a little surreal seeing his longtime friend on the opposing sideline and he caught himself appreciating the moment last week when the Grizzlies were at Target Center on Wednesday.
“J.B. is a close friend, seeing him down there — we both have a lot of love for the University of Minnesota,” Saunders said. “For that reason, having two guys on the sideline, it’s a cool thing when you take a step back.”
Gasol trade rumors
The Wolves seemingly caught a break Tuesday thanks to the NBA trade mill. The Grizzlies sat out Marc Gasol, and there were reports that Memphis and Charlotte were close to making a deal for the center. The Grizzlies had eight players out for various reasons, but Saunders said Gasol’s absence changed things schematically “a little bit” for the Wolves.
“It can change what you’re going to do a little bit because there’s a reason he’s been Defensive Player of the Year,” Saunders said. “But in terms of approach and in terms of being aggressive, that does not change.”
Rose not on trip
Wolves guard Derrick Rose did not make the trip, Saunders said, meaning it’s likely Rose will miss the remaining two games on this trip in Orlando on Thursday and New Orleans on Friday.
Rose, who played Saturday against Denver, is still recovering from a right ankle injury. Robert Covington (right knee bone bruise) also didn’t make the trip. Tyus Jones (left ankle) and Jeff Teague (left foot) did.