Tom Thibodeau always believed he could lure free agents to the Los Angeles Lakers, that the proper structure and vision still makes that franchise the ultimate superstar destination. Thibodeau always had his eyes on the most glamorous job in basketball, but the Lakers hesitated and missed the chance to recruit him.
Once Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor understood the greatness of Karl-Anthony Towns, had grown weary of missing the playoffs year after year, Thibodeau had his market and his match: total control, a $40 million-plus contract and a chance to construct a championship contender.
To suggest it would’ve been an easy choice to choose the Lakers over the Timberwolves for Thibodeau is naïve, but make no mistake: It would’ve been a choice for him. Thibodeau uses his USA Basketball coaching job to build relationships with the best players in the world, potential free agents including Kevin Durant and James Harden, Russell Westbrook and, yes, LeBron James, too.
LaMarcus Aldridge was dying for the Lakers to blow him away in a free-agent presentation on July 1 and left the room deflated over the parade of marketing and partnership suits that sold him on the residual impacts of playing for the Lakers. Had that been a Tom Thibodeau basketball presentation to Aldridge, there are those who believe Aldridge would’ve been swayed to sign there.
For all the possibilities that could’ve existed with the Lakers – who are still debating coach Bryon Scott’s future – the Timberwolves offered Thibodeau a sure thing: Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s 20 years old, a perfect gentleman, a relentless worker and the best young big-man talent in the world.
Thibodeau has deep admiration for the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick and has studied him and his program long and hard. Now, Karl-Anthony Towns has a chance to be Thibodeau’s Tom Brady. Thibodeau still marvels over a trip to Foxboro for OTA’s, watching Brady’s fervor in repeating a fundamental footwork drill over and over and over. All those Super Bowls, and Thibodeau couldn’t get over Brady’s obsession with dominating that exercise on a springtime morning.
The Timberwolves coaching staff marvels over Towns’ tenacity and character, his obsession with becoming one of the great ones. Kevin Garnett told him that if he wanted to be the leader of the franchise, he needed to be the first one to practice and the last to leave – and Towns did it. Before every game, Towns did a hard 20-25 minute workout on the floor, working up a sweat and bringing it into the game. There is strong talent on these Wolves, including Andrew Wiggins and an unselfish point guard, Ricky Rubio, who defends the way that Thibodeau demands.
Thibodeau does have a big ego, and yes, the bright lights of the Staples Center, the Lakers’ prestige, intrigued him. To win a title is most important, yes, but to win with the Lakers would’ve been historic, and Thibodeau cares about his place in history. Nevertheless, the Buss family is too fractured to turn power over to one person – never mind an outsider – and maybe Thibodeau and the Lakers were never made to work.
For now, Spurs assistant general manager Scott Layden is the perfect complement for Thibodeau with the Wolves because he’ll do the job of general manager quietly, efficiently and thoroughly. San Antonio president R.C. Buford loved his meticulousness in the scouting and evaluation of players, and Layden has strong relationships and respect throughout the league for the purpose of making deals. He’s done the GM job twice – with Utah and New York – and learned the Spurs’ way the past four years in San Antonio.
There is a reason why a lot of NBA executives and owners would’ve never ceded this kind of power to Thibodeau: They wonder if he can properly handle it all. When the business side needs the franchise’s president to help them sell tickets and sponsorships, it’ll be interesting to see how motivated Thibodeau will be to take on the broader duties of his title. Nevertheless, winning sells – and Thibodeau will win basketball games.
For all the blame that Chicago management deserved for the dysfunction of the Thibodeau era, the coach was never blameless. Yes, he was right to fight for the drafting of Gorgui Dieng over Tony Snell in 2013, but becoming obsessed with whom had the job of assistant weight coach was often misplaced frustration.
Now, Thibodeau is accountable. Now, everything’s on him. He wanted big power and big money and it belongs to the president of basketball operations and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This is everything Tom Thibodeau wanted, everything he’s chased, and most of all, Tom Thibodeau can never say there’s someone holding him back again.
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