The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be a winning team, effective immediately.
They could even be the NBA’s next great power after the Golden State Warriors’ current era.
That’s how perfect a fit Tom Thibodeau is for the Timberwolves and Glen Taylor, whose ineptitude as team owner over the past 22 years seemed inexorable.
Taylor, though, is a new man today. He turned 75 Wednesday and on the same day agreed to terms with Thibodeau as his next head coach and team president on a five-year, $40 million deal, according to a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.
Thibodeau, even though his stature has been amplified by the Chicago Bulls’ utter failure during his one-year sabbatical, is still woefully underrated as a brilliant coach and rare leader.
And he’s about to prove that in Minnesota.
For Taylor, this is his time to go legit—after all the previous thoughts of surrender to sell the franchise and so recently being forced to face mortality with the passing of good friend Flip Saunders.
And frankly, it’s refreshing to see someone who has been so bad at something realize there is a unique opportunity at hand and try hard to be good—for himself and all those he serves.
Taylor is hopeful he can do things differently and do right by his new franchise player, Karl-Anthony Towns, after being unable all those years to put Kevin Garnett in a realistic position to succeed.
It’s almost forgotten how the Warriors, given their current riches, wore rags not so long ago before new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber changed the mindset.
Long-suffering Timberwolves fans have reason to be skittish, but the legitimacy of Taylor’s makeover as owner lies in Thibodeau’s willingness to move north.
With all his options—and even before seeing anything from the Lakers’ young talent on the court, Thibodeau was thinking early this season of coaching in Los Angeles—he would not have come if he thought Taylor was still clowning around.
An obvious statement was the overly loyal Taylor boldly getting out in front of the NBA coaching searches by dumping his guys (firing coach Sam Mitchell and moving aside general manager Milt Newton) and clearing the table for Thibodeau to put exactly what he wants on it.
Then Taylor outsourced the search to an executive recruiting firm—with a clear public statement that “the search will focus exclusively on candidates outside the current organization”—a stunner to those who’ve known him the past two decades.
What makes this all the better is that the timing for Thibodeau’s best coaching effort is now—coinciding with Taylor’s heightened self-awareness.
Thibodeau’s skill and dedication as a basketball tactician is flat-out superior. That makes him an asset in any era but especially in one that accepts hiring coaches with no coaching experience.
He was already outstanding in coordinating Doc Rivers’ defense for Boston’s 2008 NBA championship and orchestrating those five playoff berths in five seasons in Chicago (before Fred Hoiberg presided over a team that ended the streak this season). He has long been a meticulous planner and teacher.
But Thibodeau will be even better now.
We’re all a collection of our experiences, and a year off for someone used to total immersion will give him greater balance and mental health. He has been taking a long view of the league and its various strategies, evaluating the good and bad instead of being mired in the manic push and pull over how he allocates Bulls players’ minutes.
For someone as sharp as Thibodeau to be reinvigorated and bring a learner’s mind to the game he already knew so well…he is going to be an absolute powerhouse.
The winning shine on Thibodeau will only grow this summer as an assistant coach for a U.S. Olympic team that is already as good as gold, and he’ll be stronger than ever in guiding Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio.
Taylor is giving Towns and LaVine the gift of a coach whose demands meet their natural abilities. More interesting will be how Thibodeau manages the sensitive Wiggins—and how successful Thibodeau and new general manager Scott Layden, another old-school NBA guy, can be in fashioning a contender via Minnesota’s cap space (Joakim Noah and Kent Bazemore?) or by trading the high 2016 first-round pick.
It’s a wise bet on Taylor’s part that Thibodeau, better than anyone else available to hire, can make it all come together.
And it opens the door for Taylor, a self-made billionaire with unshakable loyalty to Minnesota, actually to forge a legacy as Timberwolves owner.
Most sports fans don’t even remember Taylor’s 1999 under-the-table, cap-circumventing deal with Joe Smith (if you’re going to cheat, at least do it for a worthy player!) that crushed the Timberwolves under NBA penalties. Only some appreciate how Taylor let former GM David Kahn lead him and the franchise so astray with utter ignorance from 2009 to 2013. Most only know Minnesota as a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 12 seasons.
In his announcements of both the search and hiring of Thibodeau, Taylor referred to finding the “best leader to shape our talented team and help them realize their full potential.”
The beauty of this is that we might be seeing Thibodeau and Taylor realize their full potential, too.