The Minnesota Timberwolves have made headlines in recent days with the firing of Tom Thibodeau, but to understand how his tenure with the Timberwolves has unraveled, we have to look towards the past. In the fall of 2016, Thibodeau inherited a young 29-win team as the head coach with visions of building a successful team reminiscent of the play style the Chicago Bulls had during his time there. Eventually, Thibodeau managed to weasel his way into also becoming the chief of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves as well. With this new addition in his role within the franchise, Thibodeau’s vision could finally come to fruition. With acquisitions of Jimmy Butler via trade, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson, the Timberwolves began to look like the Bulls of old. The Wolves ended the playoff-drought plaguing the franchise and it finally seemed as if the Wolves were poised to finally make the next step, but drama concerning Butler dispelled any notion of the Timberwolves progressing as a team. After a win against the Los Angles Lakers, Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson and GM Scott Layden subsequently fired Thibodeau
So, why exactly was Thibodeau fired?
Trading Young Talent for Veteran Talent
Minnesota traded Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and the seventh pick in the draft (who would go on to become Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen) for Jimmy Butler. Was this trade worth it? Well not exactly. This trade signaled Thibodeau’s resistance towards embracing a young core of players. In getting a superstar, Thibodeau rid himself of young players who have not had the chance to prove themselves. Unsurprisingly, they are all now performing at a high level in Chicago despite the team performing at a subpar level. Now with Butler gone, the Wolves are left with Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Dario Šarić and a 2022 second-round draft pick who all pale in comparison to the players they initially had. Rather than develop the team organically, Thibodeau opted for a win-now strategy that has now turned against him.
Bias Towards Chicago Players
It was no secret to anyone watching the Timberwolves over the past two years that Thibodeau fetishized Bulls’ players who had played under him. Instead of pursuing in a new direction, Thibodeau attempted to revive his team of old, which was not necessarily in the best interest of the organization. Playing these Bulls’ players over younger players who needed to see minutes on the court was simply a mistake. We see this favoritism at its best with Thibodeau’s awful handling of the Jimmy Butler situation. Butler had openly criticized Wolves’ players, especially Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins while announcing he would not resign with the Wolves. Thibodeau refused to take Towns’ side and tried to remedy the situation, but it only prolonged the dreadful ordeal creating locker room drama during the 2018-2019 season. HIs inability to handle this situation is a clear example of Thibodeau’s incompetence in pursuing the best interest for the Wolves.
Refusal to Adapt
By refusing to change his defensive schemes to fit the play style of the modern NBA, Thibodeau lost his calling card to success in the basketball world. The Wolves ranked in the bottom half of the NBA regarding defense. This statistic is simply unacceptable considering that the talent is there, but Thibodeau has yet to capitalize on it. In addition, Thibodeau is infamously known for playing his starters for long periods of time with little to no breaks. This may contribute to the reason why some Wolves’ players are not performing well defensively because they are too tired out to play any physical defense.
In the wake of Thibodeau’s firing, the Wolves look towards to their former assistant coach, Ryan Saunders. After securing a win in Oklahoma, Saunders may very well be on right track to securing the head coaching position and steering this team towards the right path.