Tom Thibodeau

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.

Thibodeau On Butler Trade: “We Had To Be Patient”

In his first comments since the Jimmy Butler trade became official, Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau addressed the organization’s decision to deal its superstar.

Speaking to reporters, including ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Thibodeau said that Minnesota pondered several offers for Butler. The Timberwolves felt the return from Philadelphia was the best of the bunch and that’s when the decision was made.

“We knew we had to be patient,” Thibodeau said. “We felt we had a few offers that were good. So once we got offers to the point where we felt good about what the offers were, we thought this was the best one for us. So we executed.”

After nearly two months of trade rumors and drama, the Timberwolves dealt Butler and center Justin Patton to Philadelphia for a package of Robert CovingtonDario SaricJerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick.

As we relayed earlier today, Minnesota considered trade packages from the Rockets and Pelicans before accepting the Sixers’ offer. The Nets were also reportedly involved in discussions but were not a serious suitor for the four-time All-Star.

Woj’s Latest: Butler, Timberwolves, Thibodeau

In a piece regarding the final days of the Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN provides a closer look into the Timberwolves‘ front office and the back-and-forth that went down before the trade was finally completed. Let’s dive into some of the highlights he provides:

  • Tom Thibodeau sold Timberwolves‘ owner Glen Taylor on passing on the initial offer from the Heat centered around Josh Richardson because he believed that Pat Riley would come back with a better offer down the road (the Heat never returned with Richardson on the table in subsequent trade talks).
  • Taylor considered firing Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden this past summer before the Butler saga broke out and continues to think about the possibility of replacing both of them.
  • According to Woj, the Timberwolves desperately tried to find other trade partners throughout the past week, including reaching out to the Pelicans and Wizards, to no avail. The Wolves actually had “extensive” discussions with the Pels, but New Orleans wouldn’t offer Jrue Holiday or multiple draft picks. Washington, meanwhile wouldn’t offer Bradley Beal, which comes as no surprise.
  • The Sixers initially offered the Timberwolves their choice of Robert Covington and Dario Saric in an offer for Butler before eventually agreeing to include both players.
  • The Sixers believe they are operating out of a position of leverage when it comes to dealings with Butler. According to Woj, there are league executives that understand that Butler must be on his best behavior in order to get the full five-year max contract he desires this summer.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Barton, Jokic, Westbrook

The Timberwolves are back to where they started before the first Jimmy Butler trade with a young nucleus built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, writes Chip Scoggins of The Star-Tribune. Coach/executive Tom Thibodeau changed the blueprint in Minnesota last year when he acquired Butler from the Bulls in hopes of finding a veteran leader who could vault the team to the top of the West. Now the Wolves are back to square one, only instead of having Zach LaVine, who was sent to Chicago in the Butler deal along with a draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen, their core will include Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

Thibodeau has reduced job security after the Butler incident, and Scoggins suggests his first move should be to try to repair relationships within the organization. He let Butler virtually run the team over the past two months — catering to his outrageous behavior in an effort to convince him to stay —  which created dissension in the locker room that won’t be easy to erase.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets guard Will Barton is making progress in his rehab after surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, according to an Associated Press story. There’s still no timetable for his return, but Barton said he’s “getting stronger every day.” Team doctors planned to re-evaluate his progress six weeks after the October 23 procedure, so his comeback could start in early December. Barton said strengthening core muscles is the focus of his rehab work.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone defended center Nikola Jokic, who was fined $25K this week for using “derogatory and offensive language” in a postgame interview, relays Mike Singer of The Denver Post“There’s so many things being said about this poor kid, and I understand some of it, but those of us who know him, like most people in this hallway, give the kid a break,” Malone said. “He made a mistake, he’s paying for it, get off his back a little bit. He’s a great kid. He loves everybody, and he meant no offense to anybody.”
  • The Thunder are citing progress for Russell Westbrook, who is recovering a a sprained left ankle he suffered in Monday’s game, writes Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman. With a packed schedule this week, OKC hasn’t had time to fit in a practice to fully evaluate Westbrook’s condition. “He’s got to get out there, he’s got to practice, move and cut and do those things, so that’s going to take a little bit of time,” coach Billy Donovan said at Saturday’s shootaround.