The Minnesota Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders on Sunday night, hours after the team with the NBA's worst record this season lost for the eighth time in the last nine games.
Saunders, the 34-year-old son of long-time Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was with the Timberwolves for parts of three seasons, going 43-94.
Minnesota have the league's worst record this season at 7-24 and are already 7.5 games back of what would be the final play-in spot for the Western Conference postseason.
A person with knowledge of the situation said that the Timberwolves were finalising plans to introduce Toronto assistant Chris Finch as the new coach. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Finch's hiring has not been formally completed.
ESPN first reported Saunders' dismissal and The Athletic first reported Finch's looming hiring.
"We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future," Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas said.
"These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organizations short and long-term goals."
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 only the second game of the season, missing six fixtures before returning and then missing another 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 that the Timberwolves had stopped playing for Saunders; they were down by 21 points in the third quarter at New York on Sunday night, 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 but before long, that sentence had a very different meaning.
Finch has history with Rosas, as they both worked 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, New Orleans and was in his first season with the Raptors.
Finch began his coaching career at the Sheffield Sharks in the British Basketball League, after playing for the team for four seasons when there were known as the Sheffield Forgers. At the end of his playing career he took over and led Sheffield to the regular-season title in 1998-99, as well as being named BBL Coach of the Year. He also won the British League Cup with the team twice in 1999 and 2000.
Dismissing Saunders is the first coaching change in the league since this season began. There were nine coaches in new jobs entering this season.