Tom Thibodeau was fired – this sentence was a long time coming. After the Jimmy debacle, everyone knew that this was his last season with the franchise. Out of all the things that happened, a summary would be that Thibs is not suited for a head coaching job in today’s NBA. The league changed, and he refused to change with it.
The Thibodeau lessons
This is obvious on all fronts, on and off the court. Ont he court, he insisted on a style of play not suited for the way the game is played today. For a long time, he insisted on playing with two bigs, was reluctant on increasing switching and pushed his inexperienced young superstars to do too much in too little of time.
Then we have the “Thibs minutes.” We have a lot of data now showing the effects of long-term fatigue and its influence on player performance and injury risk. That doesn’t interest Thibodeau who continued to overplay his starters. When Jimmy Butler publicly complains about the minutes he is playing, you know something ain’t right.
Then we have the off the cour stuff. Thibs wanted the president of basketball operations title to avoid another Bulls experience. He is not the easiest guy to work with, and his relationship with the Chicago front office was strenuous – it led to one of the most offensive public statements from a team in a long time. So while Thibodeau’s need for control is understandable, his acceptance of everything that comes with the job was not up to standard. Every GM points out the most challenging part of getting the job is all the PR/business side of things you have to do. Tibs is known for being exclusively focused on basketball and basketball alone. This was already an issue with him as a head coach. There are a lot of interviews and public appearances a head coach has to do; he is as much a manager as he is a basketball strategist. It seems Thibs only has interest in the latter.
Both perspectives put Thibs deep into the “Gran Torino” category. He realized this was his reputation and had a PR campaign before getting the Minnesota job, visiting a lot of teams and having people talk about how much he has changed and modernized. We now know that was not true. His attitude you just have to work hard, hustle, grind, and success will come. It was never about the strategy, his approach to players, his (lack of) communication. If they didn’t perform, it was about “working hard.” Today’s NBA is about working smart and dealing with millennials. Not a good combo for a man like Thibs.
It seems the last straw was feedback Wolves have been getting from season ticket holders. They dropped from 21st to 29th in attendance this season and a lot of season ticket holders didn’t show much interest in renewing their tickets. This may explain the timing of the decision. Waiting till the offseason would’ve hurt the bottom line – the one thing owners do not take chances on.
What’s next for the Wolves?
Current reports indicate Ryan Saunders will take over as interim head coach for the Wolves. He is the son of late Flip Saunders. His dad did bring him into the business, but Ryan has earned his place. He was the only staff member that was pushed on Thibodeau during his hiring, but they developed respect for each other as Ryan proved himself to the staff and players. We know little of his basketball philosophy, but the organization has made it clear he has every opportunity to become the head coach. What we know right now that he will have a lot more credit with the fans.
Here comes a strong deja vu. Next in line is Fred Hoiberg. Yep, the same one that replaced Thibs in Chicago. We covered his tenure with the Bulls here, and a lot still applies. Why him? His first experience with the NBA was as an assistant GM with the Wolves. He is still regarded a good coach as the dominant feeling is he wasn’t given a real chance to develop the team in Chicago. As he is supposedly a target for the UCLA job, the Bulls may want to move fast on him. He is also a candidate for the President of Basketball Operations job that opened up with Thibs gone, but all reports indicate he is more interested in a coaching position.