Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau Not Expected To Join Lakers’ Staff

In late April, when the Lakers were interviewing candidates for their head coaching job, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted that Tyronn Lue had inquired with Tom Thibodeau about becoming his top assistant in Los Angeles (Twitter link via Showtime Forum).

With Lue now seemingly poised to claim the Lakers’ head coaching job, Frank Isola of The Athletic confirms that the team’s interest in Thibodeau was real. However, the former Timberwolves coach is unlikely to join Lue’s staff.

As Isola details, in addition to Lue’s inquiry, LeBron James let it be known through intermediaries that Thibodeau would be a “huge asset” to the Lakers in a lead assistant role. But Thibodeau is still earning money from his Timberwolves contract and can afford to be patient as he seeks another head coaching job, Isola writes. That echoes what we heard from Woj, who indicated in the wake of his initial report that Thibs would prefer to wait for a head coaching opportunity (Twitter link).

Isola also points out that Thibodeau might be wise to take a “wait-and-see” approach with a team like the Lakers after dealing with an unstable management group in Minnesota.

While the Lakers aren’t expected to bring Thibodeau aboard, it sounds like another noteworthy former head coach may join Lue in Los Angeles. As we relayed on Monday, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Frank Vogel is a strong candidate to become the Lakers’ lead assistant, if and when the team officially hires Lue.

Western Notes: Dieng, George, Nelson, Williams

In an interesting pierce regarding former head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau‘s tenure with the Timberwolves, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic shares a story involving how the relegation of forward Gorgui Dieng to the bench was just one example of Thibodeau’s inability to effectively communicate and integrate with others in the organization.

Dieng, a starter for all 82 games in Minnesota during the 2016/17 season, Thibodeau’s first, showed up for training camp in 2017 expecting to continue starting, or at least have an opportunity to compete for a starting position with newly-signed Taj Gibson, a stalwart for Thibodeau during his days in Chicago coaching the Bulls. After all, Dieng had just signed a four-year, $62.8MM contract extension with the Timberwolves the previous summer.

However, before the first practice of camp, and without any communication of any kind from Thibodeau or any representative thereof, Dieng was relegated to the second unit by discovering a second-unit jersey hanging in his locker. Per Krawczynski, Dieng took the lack of communication as a sign of disrespect, one which he seemingly never got over during the course of Thibodeau’s tenure with the Timberwolves.

Rather, Dieng’s play suffered, as did his playing time, going from 10.0 points and 7.9 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game in 2016/17 to averages of 5.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 16.9 MPG, with zero starts, during the 2017/18 campaign. With two seasons left on his current contract, Dieng, now 29, will look to return to the form he displayed during the 2016/17 season, as Gibson enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, his future with the Timberwolves still unknown.

There’s more news from the Western Conference this afternoon:

  • It’s clear from his decision to sign a long-term deal with the Thunder this summer that Paul George wants to be in Oklahoma City, but the question now becomes whether or not George is able and willing to overtake Russell Westbrook as the franchise’s marquee player, which Brett Dawson of The Athletic writes may be necessary if the Thunder ever want to reach their full potential with the team’s current core.
  • Pelicans‘ new general manager David Griffin is prioritizing hiring highly-respected trainer Aaron Nelson, currently the Suns’ Senior Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance, away from Phoenix, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times. As his profile on the National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association states, Nelson and his staff have built the Suns into an industry leader with a reputation for prolonging the careers of some of the game’s best players.
  • In other Suns’ news, 76ers’ assistant coach Monty Williams, a highly-regard head-coaching candidate this offseason for both Phoenix and the Lakers, had a “very positive” meeting with Suns’ brass on Friday (story). Williams, the first candidate to meet with the Suns’ front office since Igor Kokoskov‘s firing on Monday, is a top contender to be James Jones‘ pick for the team’s next head coach.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Pelle, Carroll, Lin

Despite the bizarre way their time together in Minnesota ended, Jimmy Butler insists he still has a good relationship with former Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, relays Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Butler was campaigning for a trade prior to the season, when he reportedly engaged in outlandish behavior at a Wolves practice. Butler wound up getting dealt to the Sixers and Thibodeau was fired shortly afterward, but Butler said they have remained on good terms.

“I’m sure Thibs would tell you like I tell you. I’ll take all the blame. I’m sure he’ll say he’ll take it too,” said Butler, who added that Thibodeau called him before tonight’s game. “Somebody got to point the finger at somebody. But like I tell everybody, Thibs is a big part – and you can tell I’m smiling – because it’s the truth, he’s a big part of who I am today as a player.

“He gave me an opportunity after not letting me play at all my first couple of years [with the Bulls]. But then he saw something in me, and he let me rock a little bit. That’s my guy. He’s always in my ear talking to me about the game. To tell you the truth, believe it or not, he talked to me about life. He does.’’

There’s more tonight from the Atlantic Division:

  • Power forward/center Norvel Pelle has played well for the Sixers‘ G League team in Delaware and may get a shot at the NBA, tweets Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philly. A Sixers official said Pelle was given a workout today so the team could take a closer look at what he can offer. Injuries have left Philadelphia in need of frontcourt help.
  • The Nets have benefited from DeMarre Carroll‘s willingness to accept a reserve role, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Carroll had started all but five games in his first five years in the league and has Brooklyn’s second-highest salary at $15.4MM, but he agreed to the move to help the team. “It was an opportunity for me to see how I can impact the game, watching it from the side first,” he said. “I think that was the biggest thing, to get used to it, to get comfortable to it and embrace it. That’s what I tried to do.”
  • The addition of Jeremy Lin hasn’t worked out for the Raptors so far, says Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Lin has missed all 17 of his 3-point shots since coming to Toronto and is shooting 30% overall. Smith notes that the return of injured guard Fred VanVleet should help the bench unit, but that’s still projected to be a couple of weeks away.

Wolves Notes: Hoiberg, Saunders, Wiggins, Thibodeau

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is trying to quell speculation that Fred Hoiberg is in line for a coaching or front office job with the organization, relays Danny Lawhon of The Des Moines Register. Hoiberg, who was fired by the Bulls last month, has past experience with Minnesota, both as a player and an assistant GM. But during a trip to Iowa today to see the team’s G League affiliate in action, Taylor emphasized that he is committed to seeing what interim coach Ryan Saunders can do.

“My goal would be that Ryan would be successful,” Taylor said. “That would be the ideal thing for us.” Saunders, the youngest coach in the league at age 32, got off to a good start Tuesday with a win at Oklahoma City.

Taylor told reporters he reached out to Hoiberg after he was fired in Chicago last month, but hasn’t talked to him since the Wolves dismissed Tom Thibodeau on Sunday.

“We had already made up our mind on Ryan (as interim coach), because Ryan has worked with these players, been there all year,” Taylor said. “That was the easiest way to make the transition.”

There’s more Timberwolves news to pass along:

  • Saunders didn’t get much time to prepare before taking the reins as head coach, writes Sid Hartman of The Star Tribune. He left the Target Center after Sunday’s win over the Lakers, but was asked to return and learned that Thibodeau has been fired. He ran his first practice Monday and had his first game as head coach last night. “With not a lot of sleep, coffee and not a ton of food,” he said of the process. “There wasn’t much time to do anything other than prepare. Really just trying to dive into the work. And talking to the team, to meet with the players and get their thoughts on things.”
  • Saunders held individual meetings with each player on the roster, including one in which he encouraged Andrew Wiggins to become more assertive on the court, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Wiggins responded Tuesday with 40 points and 10 rebounds. “He’s excited. We’re excited for him,” Wiggins said. “To get this win for him, I know it means a lot to him and his family. We’re going to keep at it.”
  • Thibodeau will probably have to be successful as an assistant again before he gets another head coaching job, states Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. He cites Thibodeau’s strained relationship with the front offices in both Minnesota and Chicago as reasons that other teams will be reluctant to give him much power right away.

O’Connor’s Latest: Spurs, Porzingis, Sixers, Wolves

The Spurs are viewed by front office sources around the NBA as a team with “significant interest” in Kristaps Porzingis, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Porzingis will be a restricted free agent this summer and while the Knicks are expected to retain him, they may be pushed by rival suitors if they’re unwilling to put a fully guaranteed maximum salary offer on the tables themselves.

Of course, as O’Connor acknowledges, San Antonio isn’t particularly well positioned to make Porzingis a lucrative long-term offer. Even if they waive and stretch Pau Gasol, who has a partially guaranteed salary for 2019/20, the Spurs will have about $96MM+ in guaranteed contracts on their books for next season.

That $96MM+ figure doesn’t account for San Antonio’s first-round pick or any other cap holds. Assuming a projected salary cap of $109MM, the team would need more than $27MM in room to offer Porzingis his maximum salary. In other words, even if the Spurs’ does have serious interest in the Knicks’ young big man, they’d have to reshape their roster substantially to go after him — New York’s top competition for Porzingis may ultimately come from elsewhere.

Here’s more from O’Connor:

  • While Jimmy Butler‘s issues with the Sixers‘ offensive system appear real, league sources tell O’Connor that the All-NBA swingman has “developed a good relationship” with Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. On Monday night, we passed along Butler’s comments on Brett Brown and the coach’s system.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns said on Monday that no one saw the firing of Tom Thibodeau coming, and it seems that doesn’t just apply to the Timberwolves‘ players — sources tell O’Connor that the decision came as a shock to many in the organization, and some staffers are “in limbo with no idea about what will happen next.”
  • According to O’Connor, league sources believe Fred Hoiberg will be a top candidate for the Timberwolves‘ permanent head coaching position, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Sunday. However, there have been no formal conversations between Hoiberg and owner Glen Taylor about the job, and the club is expected to wait until the offseason to make any decisions on its full-time coach and general manager. For now, coach Ryan Saunders and GM Scott Layden will remain in those roles.

Latest On Thibodeau, Saunders, Timberwolves

After reaching out to Tyronn Lue when the former Cavaliers head coach was let go earlier this season, Doc Rivers didn’t waste any time doing the same with Tom Thibodeau once Thibs was dismissed by the Timberwolves on Sunday. According to Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times, it’s not yet clear how involved Thibodeau might be with the Clippers, but it sounds like he’ll at least share some thoughts with Rivers over the course of the season.

“Tom will be around,” Rivers said on Monday. “Tom’s around even when he’s not. He watches every NBA game, so the one thing with Tom is he’s going to be working at home even without the job, that’s what he does. And he’s another guy who loves the game of basketball. And for me, I love people who love the game.”

Like Lue, Thibodeau was an assistant on Rivers’ staff in Boston years ago, so it makes sense that the Clippers’ coach would reach out to him. Lue’s role with the Clips is an informal one, and it sounds like the club might go that same route with Thibodeau.

Here’s more on Thibodeau, the Timberwolves, and new interim head coach Ryan Saunders:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns said today that he and his teammates were stunned by the news of Thibodeau’s firing, and that “no one saw it coming,” as Malika Andrew of ESPN.com relays. Towns admitted he was just telling Minnesota’s assistant coaches last week that the organization seemed to be gaining some much-needed stability. “I jinxed that badly,” Towns said.
  • When asked on Monday what changes he’d bring to the Timberwolves, Saunders said he wanted to be introduce a more “collaborative” approach, writes Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. That was an interesting answer, according to Rand, who notes that multiple people in the organization have told him that Thibodeau was “notoriously bad at delegating tasks” and “seldom took a collaborative approach to problem-solving.”
  • Dave Campbell of The Associated Press takes a closer look at Saunders, who becomes the youngest active head coach in the NBA. Despite being just 32 years old, Saunders is one of the most respected figures in the organization, says Campbell. “He’s the only coach that’s been here since my rookie year,” said Andrew Wiggins. “There’s been a lot of changes, but I trust him. I have a good relationship with him. I think he’s going to do a great job, especially because you can talk to him.”
  • Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype (link via USA Today) provides a few suggestions for coaches who could be candidates to take over the full-time job in Minnesota.

Latest On Tom Thibodeau, Wolves

Contrary to a report that emerged last night in the wake of Tom Thibodeau’s firing in Minnesota, former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is not an “immediate candidate” to become the team’s next coach or president, a source tells Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders will be given an opportunity to earn the job on a permanent basis, Krawczynski adds, and he has strong support from his players, who respect his work ethic and welcome his approachable nature as a change from Thibodeau. The organization will consider hiring an assistant who has experience as a head coach to help Saunders with the challenges of his new position.

GM Scott Layden was retained last night and will likely remain in place for the rest of the season, but he may need the team to make the playoffs to keep his job beyond that.

While the Wolves have a disappointing 19-21 record, the decision to part with Thibodeau was based on business as much as basketball, Krawczynski writes. The coach had become unpopular with fans, who routinely booed him every time his name was announced in pre-game introductions. Even worse, they were staying away, as Minnesota has dropped to 29th in home attendance after ranking 21st last season. The organization didn’t want to keep an alienating presence in place with a season ticket drive looming.

It’s no secret that owner Glen Taylor was unhappy with Thibodeau and Layden over how they handled the situation with Jimmy Butler before he was traded to the Sixers. Taylor commented several times that he believed both men were dragging their feet on Butler’s trade request and that they let the volatile star hijack the team during training camp and the early season.

Thibodeau has long had a reputation of giving heavy minutes to his starters, and several players complained about poor communication over their roles. Krawczynski reports that Gorgui Dieng, who has fallen out of the rotation after signing a huge contract, was “openly seething” in the locker room after Friday’s game. Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver and Jeff Teague have also expressed frustration over their status on the team.

As one of the few remaining coach/executives left in the league, Thibodeau’s standing was also harmed by several personnel decisions that didn’t work out. He was the driving force behind the decision to send Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick that turned out to be Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls to acquire Butler. He also convinced Taylor to part with Ricky Rubio in exchange for Teague. And of course, he was responsible for bringing Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, his former players in Chicago, to Minnesota to form the “Timber-Bulls.”

Taylor was in Florida last night as Layden and CEO Ethan Casson delivered the news to Thibodeau. Taylor’s only comment came in an official statement from the organization, saying, “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”

Timberwolves Fire Tom Thibodeau

The Timberwolves have fired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach and president of basketball operations, according to Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (via Twitter). After dealing with the Jimmy Butler fiasco, the Timberwolves currently sit at 19-21 and are on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture.

Krawczynski is also reporting that Ryan Saunders will take over as head coach on an interim basis while Scott Layden will still serve as the team’s general manager.

Meanwhile, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that Fred Hoiberg is a serious candidate to become the team’s GM or coach. Hoiberg previously served as the Timberwolves’ assistant GM before leaving to be the head coach at Iowa State University. Wojnarowski also believes that Monty Williams may emerge as a serious candidate for the coaching position due to previous interest that the Timberwolves had in bringing Williams in as head coach.

Team owner Glen Taylor spoke to the media about the decision to fire Thibodeau, stating that “we’ve gone up through halfway through the season and I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be or where we think we should be.” Taylor also expressed a desire to make the playoffs, believing that making such a change with half the season left may give the Wolves a chance to do so.

In two and a half seasons with the Timberwolves, Thibodeau had a 96-107 regular season record, leading the club to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004. However, his decision to acquire Butler from his old team in Chicago ultimately led to his downfall. Although the All-NBA swingman helped Minnesota win 47 games in 2017/18, his offseason trade request – and Thibodeau’s initial reluctance to grant that request – created several weeks of drama within the organization and didn’t reflect well on Thibs.

Thibodeau’s firing represents a continuation of a trend in the NBA’s head coaching ranks. Within the last two years, four head coaches who held president of basketball operations titles within their respective organizations have had those responsibilities removed or have been fired altogether. Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Doc Rivers (Clippers), and Stan Van Gundy (Pistons) were the others. Gregg Popovich of the Spurs is now the only NBA head coach who is also his team’s head of basketball operations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Jones, Korver, Thibodeau

The Nuggets are entering 2019 with the No. 1 record in the Western Conference, sporting an improved defense with their usual stellar play on offense this season. The team has worked for its success despite being hammered with injuries to key players such as Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton over the past two months.

“It’s worth enjoying,” Jamal Murray said, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. “It’s something you don’t want to give up. You drop to second, ‘You’re like, damn.’ Even though we’re not really paying attention to it, it’s in your sub-conscious. We’re the top team in the West for a reason.”

The next challenge for the Nuggets, head coach Mike Malone says, is not becoming complacent and taking the success for granted.

“The moment you come up for air, the moment you become satisfied, you will fall and fall quickly,” Malone said. “That’s how close the Western Conference is. You lose three games, you can drop eight spots.”

Denver owns a 23-11 record this season, but the team is scheduled to play five games in the first eight days of 2019 — including three contests on the road. Their resiliency and attitude toward shuffled rotations have been effective so far, with players such as Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. also not seeing any game action yet.

Thomas is expected to return at some point in the coming weeks, while Porter Jr. may be out until the 2019/20 season. Millsap, Harris and Barton are each working to get back to 100 percent after sustaining respective injuries in December.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones has looked comfortable while starting at point, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. With both Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose out to injuries, Jones started for the team on Sunday against the Heat, then again on Monday against the Pelicans. He was able to notch 15 points and 13 assists in 38 minutes during Monday’s contest. “I felt great,” Jones said. “Continue to just try to make the right reads, the right plays and just play my game. Just continue to do so whether that’s shooting, playing off of other guys, getting certain guys going, no matter what it is, make sure we’re in the best position to try to win the game.”
  • Kyle Korver has positively impacted the Jazz one month after being traded to the team, Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News writes.  Utah holds a 7-1 record in games when Korver makes two or more 3-pointers and a 1-6 record when he makes one or less. “Since I have come on, it is a lot of me just trying to find my spot and be comfortable with how we try to play,” Korver said on Saturday, according to McDonald. The Jazz own a 18-19 record on the season.
  • Michael Scotto of The Athletic explores Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s coaching style through his longtime players, including the likes of Rose, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. Thibodeau is known for being a hard-nosed, disciplined NBA coach who prides himself on tough work and dedication. “His quote is always, ‘The magic is in the work,’” Deng said of Thibodeau. “It just tells you he’s going to put in as many hours as it takes to get it done.”

Wolves Notes: Covington, Jones, Dieng, Towns

During Jimmy Butler‘s final, acrimonious weeks in Minnesota, his ability to communicate with young Timberwolves players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was called into question. Tasked with leading the club, Butler instead berated teammates in practice, questioning their desire to win and their ability to take criticism.

By comparison, new forward Robert Covington, acquired in the deal for Butler, seems to have a better sense of when to talk to teammates and when to lay off, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

“I know how to read it,” Covington said. “Emotions are flying and everything like that. That’s just part of my character. … I pick the right moments and that’s when I approach guys. I would never want to sit up here and rub people the wrong way because not a lot of people will typically react the right way.”

While Covington has gotten on Towns a little, encouraging him to bring more of a “defensive mindset” to his role, it doesn’t seem to be negatively impacting the relationship between the two, according to Hine, who notes that Covington and Towns are constantly talking and making fun of each other in the locker room. The duo has helped the Wolves win seven of nine games since trading Butler.

Here’s more from out of Minnesota:

  • While Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng have been frustrated at times this season due to their limited roles, both players have excelled since Butler’s departure, says Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Within the same story, Krawczynski reports that there’s still no definitive timeline for Jerryd Bayless‘ return to action, though it’s not clear if he’ll have a role in Minnesota even once he’s healthy.
  • In a separate story for The Athletic, Krawczynski explores how Towns is adjusting to his new role as the Timberwolves’ leader, with current teammate Derrick Rose and former teammate Kevin Garnett weighing in on the subject. “He’s not always going to get things right,” Garnett said. “He’s going to have to speak up, voice his opinion. It doesn’t always have to be from a confrontational standpoint. KAT has good leadership skills because he works hard. It’s whether he wants to vocalize those, which is his next challenge as a leader, to me.”
  • While the Butler drama is in the rear view mirror, head coach Tom Thibodeau remains under the microscope, as Frank Isola of The Athletic details. Thibodeau’s long-term hold on Minnesota’s head coaching job is still tenuous, but he has done an excellent job with the new-look Wolves so far.