Beyond the Arc
by Ben Fiore
Last night the Minnesota Timberwolves fired their Head Coach and President of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. The T-Wolves are (19-21) under Tom Thibodeau who posted a (97-107) record with the franchise since joining them in 2016. To me, this genuinely comes as a surprise. I mean come on, who doesn’t want the Penguin from the Tim Burton “Batman” era with a sultry, raspy voice coaching their team? On a serious note, I feel for Thibs. I think Thibs is a solid coach and can do a lot with a team, if he has the right support, trust, and talent around him.
Tom Thibodeau is a smart guy. A lot of people forget that this man was a Dean’s List student at Salem State University, and lead a lot of intelligent players at Harvard for four years from 1985-1989 as an assistant coach. That year, Thibs became an assistant coach of an NBA expansion team, (you guessed it), the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was an assistant coach to Bill Musselman, and had success there which explains why it made sense to bring him back in 2016 as a head coach. He learned the ways of the NBA through that team, and then expanded his knowledge with other franchises. Between 1989 and 2010, he served as an assistant coach for the Timberwolves, Spurs, 76ers, Knicks, Rockets and Celtics. With Boston, he won a few titles during the “Boston Three Party” era. This made him marketable as a head coach. Which is why he was selected to be head coach of the Chicago Bulls in 2010.
Thibs was a rock star in Chicago. He was named coach of the year in 2011, which was the same year Derrick Rose had his historic season, becoming the youngest NBA MVP in league history. Thibodeau has always been known as a player developer. Players such as Ray Allen, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and others credit Thibs for large amounts of success in their careers. His methods for his players to develop though are somewhat controversial. Tom believes the best way for a player to develop is to “throw them to the wolves” (buh dum pishhh) and see how they handle it. He is not afraid of putting any player in any situation despite the circumstances. This has also resulted in him doing it almost too much. Where some players praise Thibs, many feel he overworks his athletes. Pushes them past where they need to, or feel comfortable working to. Some blame him for all of Derrick Rose’s injury problems which stunted the career of possibly the greatest “what could have been” story of all time. Injuries to players like Jimmy Butler as well have made fans raise questions about his coaching methods as well.
There is something to be said about players being loyal to him though. Doesn’t it show some signs of respectability that players return to play for Thibs? Derrick Rose signed with the Timberwolves because of their connection from Chicago. Despite his grievances with the team, even Jimmy Butler said he was extremely happy to be playing for Thibs again after getting traded from the Bulls to the T-Wolves. Thibs is respected around the league posting a (255-139) record as the Bulls Head Coach. But Thibs couldn’t get past the LeBron era Heat with that Bulls team, which lead to his release after the 2015 season. Thibs was given another chance with a young, rebuilding and promising team in the T-Wolves, but clearly didn’t last long there either. Thibs is a good coach, but not good enough. What’s the problem?
In Thibs’ defense, my man got two jobs! Seriously though. As President of Basketball Operations and head coach, there is a lot more responsibility and pressure on that spot. The only other guy to do it in the league today? Gregg Popovich. That should tell you something. But as we have seen, Tom doesn’t handle pressure that well, seeing as that he never gave expected results in Chicago, and has underwhelmed in Minneapolis. There are many flags to be raised about his decision making as well. The T-Wolves had a chance to obtain and keep young rising stars in Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine, but Thibs decided to trade all of them for Jimmy Butler. We see how that turned out… Plus, Thibs still has DEEP ties with Chicago. When the Jimmy Butler saga was going on, he didn’t really do anything. He was like a defeated parent watching his kids fight, but let the oldest win because he’s liked him longer. Thibs didn’t mitigate the situation by calming it down or trying to reunite the team, he just let it get seemingly worse. Thibs also played and still plays Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson more often than some younger players with better curves for growth and more potential than veterans who aren’t the athletes they used to be. I guess he’s stuck to his guns at least, but maybe that’s part of the problem.
The Timberwolves want and need change. Understandably they are frustrated. They have so much talent, but are underperforming. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the greatest overall talents in the NBA. I believe he is the second greatest stretch-five in the league behind Anthony Davis. Wiggins is erratic, but has potential to evolve into a LeBron-esque protégé if he focuses and gets the correct guidance. Other players on that team can shine as well, and apparently Minnesota believes they can obtain that with a new coach. Here’s the problem, they are about to set themselves up for failure again! Last month, I talked about Fred Hoiberg being a horrible coach and reasonably fired because he posted an ass sucking record. And somehow in Satan’s mischievous workings, the Timberwolves have decided that he is emerging as the top man for the job. I don’t understand. I am genuinely flabbergasted. Why in the living shit would you replace a head coach with a guy who has done worse than the guy you just fired for his ENTIRE CAREER?!?! That’s like if you owned a football team, and Mark Sanchez was your quarterback. Say you fire him. And instead of drafting a QB or signing an established free agent, you bring in Jamarcus Russell. It’s just simply a worse move. Now look closely, the T-Wolves are literally going to make the same mistake that got them where they are in the first place. They AGAIN are potentially hiring guy that has a history with the team. Hoiberg was a player for the team in the 90’s. Just like how Tom Thibodeau was an assistant back in the day with them. Another key note, Hoiberg is also a FORMER COACH OF THE CHICAGO BULLS. And where did Thibs come from? CHICAGO. At this point, if the Timberwolves get worse, it’s their own damn fault. I am practically punching my keyboard out of anger at this potential move. Any T-Wolves fan who thinks Fred f*cking Hoiberg is a better option that Tom Thibodeau is a bafoon and can’t say shit about their failures in the future.
But alas, as much as I love and study the NBA, I don’t think I’ll ever understand anything on the front office side. As soon as I think something makes sense, a franchise switches it up and I’m lost again. As for the Timberwolves, they are looking at right now. And you can’t expect to head to the finals immediately while playing in the Western Conference with teams such as the Warriors, Lakers, Rockets and so on. They especially can’t expect to win now if they hire the “nice loser” in Fred Hoiberg. Fred’s a great guy, but so is Thibs. Hiring Hoiberg would make their justified decision to fire Thibodeau debunked. It would turn a business decision into a bad decision. For Thibs, I think he would be well suited to either just be a HC or even maybe step back and be an assistant again somewhere. I like Thibs, and feel he’s still got a lot to offer for plenty of NBA teams, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the NBA feels the same.