SOME of the ways to get fired as a coach in an NBA team are to get disliked by the fans, overuse your starters and beat the Los Angeles Lakers by 22 points.
All of the above happened to Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau a few days ago when team CEO Ethan Casson and GM Scott Layden went into Thib’s office and without a clue as to what’s happening, received his walking papers in the middle of his third season with the team. The timing was off as it was immediately after the big win over the Lakers. Assistant coach Ryan Saunders, son of former Wolves coach Flip Saunders takes over as interim head coach.
Casson was hired to head the business and marketing aspect of the franchise after Thibs became the Wolves’ head coach in April 2016. Because Thibs insisted purely on the basketball side, this did not sit well with Casson and his team. NBA basketball is first and foremost business and teams have to innovate, collaborate and need to explore more options in a highly competitive sports market.
Most were surprised about the dismissal, including Karl Anthony-Towns. KAT felt that the Wolves were getting to be cohesive and he was finally getting comfortable with the team’s programs. His comfort level will be wholly dependent on Saunder’s system. KAT said nobody saw the firing coming.
Thibodeau joined the NBA in 1989 as assistant with San Antonio, Philadelphia, New York, Houston and Boston before becoming Chicago’s head coach in 2010. In his first season calling the shots for the Bulls, they went 62-20 and made the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Miami in five games.
Coming to Minnesota in 2016, he piloted the Wolves to its first post season appearance since 2003-2004. Then came the self-inflicted Jimmy Butler drama which could have been remedied earlier had he been traded to another team before this season began. Reportedly, Butler targeted GM Layden, Thibs, KAT and Andrew Wiggins. Lately, Butler, who’s only loyal to himself, was reported to be showing his confrontational attitude to his coaches and teammates in Philly. Don’t be surprised if by the February trading deadline, we’ll be seeing Jimmy Buckets in a new uniform.
Thib’s insistence on former Bulls players, including Loul Deng this time, and his lack of communication frustrated several players. He relied too much on his starters, giving them heavy minutes. His temperamental behaviour on the court and eccentric attitude in the community made him unpopular in Minnesota.
Attendance at home games were declining and it translated to increased disinterest from fans. The team was 21st in fan attendance to home games last year but this time, they dropped to 29th. As I said earlier, the NBA is business and the fans bring in the revenues. With the renewal for season tickets nearing, it is highly likely that management decided to let Thibo-go. Maybe with the move, they can gain back fan support.
Reportedly in the short list for the Timberwolves’ HC position are former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg and former Detroit Piston and current TV analyst Chauncey Billups.
As to Thib’s fate, chances are he won’t be jobless for long as LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reportedly hinted that he could be with the Clippers in some capacity. Thibs was his assistant in Boston. If ever, he will join former Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue who also was hired by the Clippers to assist Rivers. Lue was also his assistant with the Celtics./PN