Timberwolves Fire Head Coach Tom Thibodeau
The Minnesota Timberwolves announced on Sunday that they have fired head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau. The news came down just a couple of hours after the Timberwolves’ 22-point victory Sunday afternoon over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Thibodeau led the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance in over a decade last season, but the results have not been as pretty so far this year. Minnesota is just 19-21 on the season, which is good for 11th place in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Slow Start Cost Thibodeau
Minnesota finished 47-35 last season, which was good enough to earn the No. 8 seed in the conference playoffs. The Wolves were eventually beaten by the Houston Rockets in the first round, but the franchise was clearly headed in the right direction.
However, the team was thrown into chaos when superstar Jimmy Butler requested a trade just a week before the beginning of training camp last fall. The Butler saga served as a distraction for the team early in the season before he was eventually traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in November. The Timberwolves endured a brutal 4-9 start, and they have struggled to fully recover even with Butler having already been shipped out of town.
The Wolves’ ownership wants to take the team’s power structure in a different direction. The team’s CEO, Ethan Casson, and general manager, Scott Layden, reportedly fired Thibodeau just after the victory over the Lakers. Thibodeau reportedly had no idea that his job was on the line and that his firing could have come at any time.
Layden will remain in his role of general manager, for the time being. The Wolves have reportedly discussed hiring ex-Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or current ESPN television analyst Chauncey Billups as either the team’s next head coach or GM. Interestingly enough, Chicago had been Thibodeau’s most recent stop prior to taking the Minnesota job. The team’s brass has yet to formally reach out to either Hoiberg or Billups, however.
Owner Glen Taylor is reportedly a fan of Hoiberg’s, though the coach is a candidate to take the newly-vacant head coaching post at UCLA, as well. That said, Hoiberg would reportedly prefer to stay in the NBA ranks rather than moving back to college. Hoiberg was the head coach at Iowa State before succeeding Thibodeau as the head coach of the Bulls. He was fired by Chicago in December.
The Wolves would like to separate the powers of the front office and coach, which was not the case with Thibodeau at the helm. Stripping the new head coach of front office duties would leave San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich as the lone coach in the league wearing hats in both offices.
Assistant coach Ryan Saunders will replace Thibodeau as head coach on an interim basis. The 32-year-old is the son of the late Flip Saunders, who coached the team across 2 different stints before passing away due to cancer in 2015. Saunders will become the NBA’s youngest head coach.
Assistant Andy Greer, who was close to Thibodeau, was also let go.
The Wolves have gone 15-12 since trading Butler, but inconsistent performance and waning fan interest played a part in ultimately getting Thibodeau fired. Casson and Thibodeau reportedly did not have a good relationship, and Casson has been lobbying for a coach that would have a better working relationship with the business aspects of the organization.
Layden is also reportedly on thin ice, as Taylor has evidently considered letting him go, as well.
Thibodeau finishes his tenure in Minnesota with a regular season record of 97-107. His 97 wins are tied for the second-most in franchise history for a head coach with Rick Adelman. Flip Saunders is the team’s all-time wins leader with 427.
Taylor issued a statement, saying, “We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best. These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”
Hoiberg played 2 seasons with the Timberwolves before retiring and getting into coaching. He was the team’s assistant general manager before leaving to become the head coach of Iowa State in 2010. Billups played a couple of seasons with the Wolves before leaving in free agency to join the Detroit Pistons in 2002.
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