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Last Shots: On Thibodeau’s firing, the timing, and what’s next

MINNEAPOLIS – Nineteen quick thoughts on the Minnesota Timberwolves firing Tom Thibodeau for his 19 wins this season.

1. When the Minnesota Timberwolves allowed Jimmy Butler to step on the practice floor on Oct. 10 prior to the start of the 2018-19 season it further complicated things.

2. Not only did Butler want out, and reinforce that fact in the practice, but it also put the wheels in motion on Thibodeau’s departure. It’s fair to say the clock on Thibodeau’s demise officially started that day. The timing of the firing felt odd. It was done too late, but oddly early as well.

3. That clock sped up when the Wolves went winless out west to fall to 4-9 on the season and finally traded the disgruntled Butler. That situation could no longer be kept alive in Minnesota.

4. Time kept ticking, and maybe even slowed down when the Wolves returned home refreshed and clear of the baggage that Butler was. Things looked bright, maybe even salvageable at that point. The team got above .500 on the season and trending in the right direction before another trip out to the west coast.

5. Another winless trip, punctuated with a loss to the hapless Phoenix Suns, put the clock back in motion. A loss to the miserable Atlanta Hawks at home followed a few weeks later. Injuries to Derrick Rose and Robert Covington didn’t help the cause, but in all honesty, this had stopped being a matter of if, and more so an issue of when it would happen.

6. There may not be a reason as to why it was done following the win over the Lakers on Sunday. It may have been planned prior to the game by general manager Scott Layden and owner Glen Taylor. That’s not yet known.

7. But the minute the Butler situation bled into the season and was botched, this was always going to be the outcome. Thibodeau wasn’t going to be able to save himself.

8. Outside of the Butler fiasco, there were more reasons why Thibodeau wasn’t suited to be the coach of this team.

9. Offensively, his system didn’t work with the current state of the NBA. The league is in an era where 3-pointers are flung at an all-time, save for a few teams. The Wolves didn’t adapt to that under Thibodeau. They were constantly fighting a battle against math that Thibodeau refused to try to win. Players weren’t forced into changing long 2-pointers into threes, as much of the NBA has done.

10. Thibodeau was notorious for playing his guys high minutes in Chicago when he was the coach of the Bulls, and that carried over to Minnesota. In his final stand as coach of the Wolves, Thibodeau had Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson – three starters – all on the floor with less than five minutes remaining of a game in which they led by 27 points.

11. In a day and age in the NBA where science of the human body is heavily relied upon, Thibodeau chose to ignore it. Covington played high minutes while battling a knee injury, and then found himself sidelined indefinitely. Rose has played 38 minutes or more five times and either been injured in the next game or missed it completely. These times – even when the players say they’re good – it’s up to the coach to understand the limits for these guys. Thibodeau didn’t do that. It even happened last year with Butler and his knee injury.

12. Aside from that, the Wolves invested $150 million in Andrew Wiggins, and Thibodeau has been unable to get the best out of him on a consistent basis. There have been flashes – Sunday afternoon included – where he looked like a player that could thrive with Thibodeau in charge. But there were far too many underwhelming performances.

13. He hasn’t changed his game in a necessary way under Thibodeau, and while that is certainly on Wiggins, coaching is factored in, too. Holding Wiggins accountable for routinely taking 22-foot jump shots instead of taking one step back or attacking the rim wasn’t done. It needed to be to get the best out of Wiggins and the best out of the Wolves. It’s unfair to put all of that on Thibodeau, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t just the coach, but the President of Basketball Operations as well.

14. The buck stopped on Thibodeau’s desk. Maybe that was the worst mistake made in hiring him, that he wasn’t held accountable, similarly to the players in some aspect.

15. Moving forward, the Wolves have options. They also have one of the biggest decisions in franchise history. The Wolves have Towns locked in long term and Wiggins as well. Finding the right coach for that group could mean serious contention as a playoff team. If things break right, maybe more.

16. If this decision is screwed up, the franchise falls back into the depths of the NBA. There’s quite a bit of pressure to find the right person for the job, and there should be.

17. Players like Towns don’t come around often. The Wolves are lucky to have him. Lately he’s been an absolute monster. The type of player that franchises wish to build around, as the Wolves are right now. But he’s not enough. In the NBA, one player is never enough to be a championship contender. There always needs to be more than that. The Wolves are in a tough enough spot moving forward with Wiggins not reaching his potential. Finding someone that gets him closer to that would be huge.

18. The interim job was given to Ryan Saunders, and there could be a legitimate chance that when the 2019-20 season begins next October, he’s the man standing on the sidelines running the show. He’ll have plenty of time to prove himself as a coach.

19. He’ll get his first chance on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City as the Wolves take on the Thunder. Talk to you after.





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