Over a year ago, coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau went all-in on the Minnesota Timberwolves winning now by cashing in several trade chips for Jimmy Butler. And after the superstar forced his way out of Minnesota earlier this season, Thibodeau’s days were seemingly numbered, but now things have reached a breaking point.
On Sunday night, the Timberwolves let Thibodeau go after a rough first three years with the franchise. Despite a 22-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson delivered the news to Thibodeau in his office after the game, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
NEWS: Timberwolves relieve Tom Thibodeau of his duties.
Assistant Coach Ryan Saunders will assume the role of interim head coach for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.
Full release: pic.twitter.com/sleIVTH1sM
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) January 7, 2019
General manager Scott Layden will remain at his post, and assistant Ryan Saunders, son of late former Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, will serve as the interim head coach. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves already have their eyes on another head coach with connections to Minnesota: Fred Hoiberg.
Thibodeau’s time was running out
Thibodeau has long been known for his intensity and defensive expertise, but things never quite clicked after he was hired in the summer of 2016. With former No. 1 overall picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins ready to blossom, Thibodeau was brought in elevate the team to the next level.
However, Minnesota only improved by two games to 31-51 in Thibs’ first year. Thibodeau orchestrated a draft-day trade prior to his second year for one of his favorite players from his days with the Chicago Bulls, Butler, as he sent three lottery picks to the Windy City. The Timberwolves did make the playoffs in 2018, but they lost in the first round, 4-1 to the Houston Rockets.
Things quickly unraveled this past summer, when Butler asked for a trade and was more outspoken about his beefs with teammates Towns and Wiggins. Thibodeau could not convince Butler to play out his last year under contract in Minnesota and eventually traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
After holding a .573 winning percentage last season, the Timberwolves are just 19-21 this campaign. And even though they improved to 15-12 after the trade, the writing was on the wall with Minnesota currently sitting in the 11-seed and a game back of the second-worst record in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Why fire Thibodeau now?
The timing of the firing does seem a bit odd — why not fire Thibodeau immediately after the Butler fallout or let him figure out the new roster? But the iron may have been hot if the Timberwolves wanted to hire their top choice.
According to Wojnarowski, former Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is under serious consideration for either the Timberwolves’ head coach or GM position, as is former All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups. Before Hoiberg coached the Bulls and at Iowa State, he was an assistant general manager with the Wolves, and he could keep Saunders on as the associate head coach.
After UCLA fired Steve Alford a week ago, the Bruins have had their eyes on the former Big 12 Coach of the Year. So this would be the opportunity for the Timberwolves to get their man before he finds a new home elsewhere.
Hoiberg went 115-56 (.673) and made the NCAA Tournament four out of five years at Iowa State but struggled to a 115-155 (.426) record with the Bulls. He only made the playoffs once and was fired in December after a 5-19 start. Still, he is intimately familiar with the Timberwolves having played his last two seasons with the team and spending time in their front office.
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