MINNEAPOLIS – For reasons currently unknown, the tipping point between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau finally happened. Thibodeau was fired following the Wolves’ 108-86 win over the Lakers on Sunday afternoon at Target Center.
The answer to everything is that Thibodeau wasn’t the right fit, but there are still plenty of questions on the table. Next up is Ryan Saunders in an interim role. But after that, it remains foggy for the Wolves.
There are many different directions the franchise could go with the next coach. A wise direction would be to not make that person serve as the President of Basketball Operations as well. It’s fair to say that won’t happen again. The Wolves have seen firsthand that it isn’t the best direction to go in the NBA, and takes an incredibly rare person to make work. Thibodeau wasn’t that person, and the next one shouldn’t be given that chance, either.
There have been reports from ESPN that the Wolves may have their eyes on a few people for the job already. The popular name that’s been thrown around has been Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg spent time in Minnesota as both a player and an executive. He was recently relieved of his duties as coach of the Chicago Bulls – just like Thibodeau once was.
The issue with that avenue, and maybe it’s a non-issue, is that it’s not possible to know whether Hoiberg has what it takes to be an NBA coach. He wasn’t given that chance while he was in Chicago. What Hoiberg wanted to do as a coach and what the Bulls supplied him with didn’t mesh. Would that be a different story in Minnesota? Probably.
That’s not to say he’s the right fit, however.
Saunders certainly could be an option – maybe the option the Wolves hope is the right one – moving forward. His name alone means something in Minnesota with all his father – Flip – meant to the franchise and the city. Like Hoiberg, there’s not a way of knowing whether or not Saunders will be a good coach. This will be his first shot at it, and he’s set to become the youngest in the NBA at 32 years of age.
The benefit that both Saunders and the Wolves have here is that he’s got 42 games left in the season to prove himself and whether or not he fits in. There’s a chance – and maybe even a hope – that he can be the next full-time coach of the Wolves.
What Saunders has the opportunity to be judged without necessarily having concrete goals in place. There shouldn’t be a stipulation that if the Wolves make the playoffs or advance that the job is secured, or that a miss means he’s out. That wouldn’t be fair to Saunders or the franchise.
Winning would certainly help, without question, but it won’t be the be-all-end-all. What he could do is start to unlock Andrew Wiggins’ potential more than Thibodeau did, make the offense more up-to-date with the current NBA landscape, and getting more of a buy-in defensively. That would be a start.
Saunders will need to prove he belongs that he can handle the job over the next couple of months while handling things on an interim basis. The difficult part of determining that may belong solely to owner Glen Taylor. It’s fair to question whether or not general manager Scott Layden will be on when the season ends. That’s not to say he won’t, but it’s a fair question to ask.
It’s too early to say definitely what’s next for the Wolves. This mess that can all relate back to the Jimmy Butler fiasco is mostly done, but not definitely. There will be more moves in some capacity prior to the beginning of next season.
For as foggy as it may be currently, the sun will shine through eventually. If the Wolves get this right, the core surrounding Karl-Anthony Towns may be able flourish under the fight leader. Finding out who that is will be the most important decision the Wolves have had since drafting Towns in 2015.