Glen Taylor Deserves as Much Blame as Tom Thibodeau for Timberwolves' Problems
OK, so perhaps Tom Thibodeau deserved to be fired Sunday, with the Wolves under .500, out of the playoff mix and immersed in a season where they have looked as functional as a Bravo reality show. Thibs held all the power in Minnesota—and here’s where we note that Thibodeau had as much business holding the dual president/coach role as Patrick Stewart does running the space program—so he owns every inch of a season that began with Jimmy Butler’s carefully choreographed rebellion and ends (for Thibs, anyway) following a brutal December, lowlighted by losses to Phoenix and Atlanta, with Minnesota barreling toward a bottom-third defense for the third straight season.
Thibs should be held accountable, and was.
Glen Taylor should be too, and won’t.
A pair of Timberwolves executives marched into Thibodeau’s office and fired him on Sunday, per ESPN, but this decision had Taylor’s fingerprints all over it. Thibodeau often has little regard for those above him on the masthead, and there have been incidents over the last two seasons where Taylor believed Thibodeau was dismissive of him, sources told The Crossover. Who knows who Taylor thought he was hiring when he handed Thibodeau the keys to the franchise in 2016, but it didn’t take long for Taylor to decide he didn’t like who he ended up with.
Taylor has earned the benefit of the doubt, presiding over one of the NBA’s elite organizations, a Peter Holt-like presence overseeing a franchise with a rich history of playoff … no, wait, none of that is true. Taylor has earned the admiration of many Minnesotans—the team is still in Minnesota, after all, and a $25 million practice facility along with a renovated Target Center suggest it will be for a long time—but since 1994, when Taylor paid a tidy $88 million for the team, the Timberwolves have endured nearly incomparable futility.
Consider: Gifted with Kevin Garnett in 1995, Minnesota advanced to one conference finals, in 2004, the only time in franchise history the Wolves escaped the first round. Context: The woebegone Sacramento Kings made three conference semifinals during that stretch, while the Orlando Magic own a pair of Finals appearances.
Taylor has cycled through half a dozen head coaches in the last decade or so, hired, fired and re-hired the late Flip Saunders, took a hands-on role in a Garnett trade that netted the Wolves three good years of Al Jefferson, thought David Kahn was a good idea, nickel-and-dimed Kevin Love and handed an executive role that requires vision and foresight to Thibodeau, who would trade a first-round pick if it returned him a player that could help him beat Portland on a Thursday in January.
Oh, and did you hear why Thibodeau was fired now? Fan apathy, specifically when it came to season ticket renewals, was reportedly a factor, as was Thibodeau’s strained relationship with the business side of the Timberwolves' operations. Putting aside the fact that no one should be remotely surprised that Thibodeau—who was barely on speaking terms with Bulls brass toward the end of his run in Chicago—doesn’t play well with others, imagine being a Wolves fan knowing the criteria for your coach is engaging more with the public.
Is Sweet Lou Dunbar available?
You know who is? Fred Hoiberg, and in the eyes of many rival team officials, The Mayor’s availability was a driving force behind this decision. The ex-Bulls coach has been linked to UCLA’s coaching vacancy, and there are many in the NBA who believe Taylor would like to bring Hoiberg, a Timberwolves executive from 2006 to 2010, back into the fold.
Hoiberg is fine—anyone that thinks they know anything about Hoiberg’s ability to be an NBA coach after a three-plus year run in Chicago highlighted by constant roster turnover is lying—and there’s a chance Taylor could fall into something with Ryan Saunders, the newly minted interim coach and son of Flip Saunders.
Stuff your cries of nepotism; Saunders, 32, is widely respected—Miami, among others, sought Saunders out for its coaching staff when Thibodeau took over—with a brilliant basketball mind. As dysfunctional as the Wolves have been, they are just two games out of a playoff spot and, if you want to get ambitious, just four and a half games out of a top-four seed. There’s more than enough time to turn the season around.
If it all works out, great, and there would be something cinematic about the son of Flip Saunders leading the franchise his father vowed to turn around. But if Taylor gets his hands on another basketball decision, look out. Being rich means you can buy an NBA franchise. It doesn’t mean you have a clue how to run one.