The Minnesota Timberwolves are finally getting their due. After ending an abysmal playoff drought, the Wolves are garnering attention that eluded them throughout the Kevin Love era. Unfortunately, Minnesota has learned that not all press is good press. Recent reports have highlighted unrest within the organization, especially among cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. This uneasiness is aggravated by the dual roles played by coach Tom Thibodeau, who also makes key roster decisions as president of basketball operations.
Toeing the line between coach and executive requires a reasonable person who’s able to maintain the long-term view. The San Antonio Spurs are the most recent success story, led by esteemed coach/president Gregg Popovich. Popovich is widely recognized as a sensible, patient person who’s even willing to publicly admit his mistakes. On the other hand, Thibodeau was falsely rumored to have thrown a computer through a glass wall in a fit of rage. Although that rumor is pure libel, the fact that it’s completely believable says a lot.
Thibodeau is anything but patient, often yanking bench players after tiny mistakes. He’s also notoriously stubborn, a trait exhibited by his tendency to run starters into the ground. Thibodeau sounds like an injured wolf on the sidelines, howling at no one in particular about the various ways to cover a pick-and-roll. He doesn’t have the levelheadedness required to play two roles within an organization.
If there really is tension within the Timberwolves, having a coach with so much power isn’t going to help. Most reports regarding the Wolves’ organizational turmoil put Thibodeau right in the center of the controversy. Wiggins was upset with his minutes, while Towns is rumored to be concerned about the team’s direction. In Thibodeau we have a reactionary coach that isn’t getting along with his players, but also has the power to trade or release them. That sounds like a formula for locker-room disarray.
Adding onto all the drama are Thibodeau’s personnel decisions, many of which are head-scratchers. Bringing in Derrick Rose took minutes away from Tyus Jones, who led one of the most efficient lineups in the NBA. Jones is a distributor that dictates an offense, a player that the shot-happy wolves desperately need on the floor. But Rose, along with Thibodeau signee Jamal Crawford, are isolation players that ate up a lot of valuable bench possessions. Crawford and Rose had their moments, but they didn’t prove to be good signings.
Other than Popovich, recent dual role coaches haven’t experienced much success. Stan Van Gundy was fired by the Detroit Pistons after a tenure wrought with the same kind of organizational turmoil now plaguing the Wolves. Doc Rivers was relieved of his front office duties by the Los Angeles Clippers last year after a spotty stint as president. Both men were respected coaches like Thibodeau, but couldn’t figure it out as executives.
The Timberwolves are about to enter what could be a franchise altering off-season. The rumor mill is swirling, with recent reports indicating Thibodeau would be fired before Towns would be traded. Even if Thibodeau isn’t fired as coach, his position as president of basketball operations should be re-evaluated.