Why Isn’t Tom Thibodeau the Timberwolves’ Coach?


Here we are in September, a couple of months away from the tip off of the Minnesota Timberwolves 2015-2016 season.

Much has been accomplished this off-season.  Still, there are many questions that can be asked of this team.  How much does Flip Saunders intend to play the veterans over the young players? Will the Wolves trade Anthony Bennett? Will Ricky Rubio be moved? Who’s going to get most of the minutes in the crowded front court?

Despite all of these questions being important now and in the years to come, one question is still on my mind in terms of this basketball team: why isn’t Tom Thibodeau the coach?

This was explored briefly at the commencement of the summer when it was still rational to change head coaches.  But when the leaves are changing colors, of course, teams rarely switch their ship’s captain when the storm of the NBA regular season is in sight.

Dishearteningly, as Wolves fans, we, barring a strange turn of events before this season, must look in retrospect at the idea of Tom Thibodeau coaching the Timberwolves this season. What was and not what is. What may eventually happen instead of what has come.

Apr 8, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau yells to his team during an NBA basketball game at Amway Center. The Orlando Magic beat the Chicago Bulls 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Thibodeau has an extremely impressive resume.  Looking at the numbers, he is eighth all-time in coaching win percentage (255-139, .647) among coaches who have led their teams for at least two seasons. There are coaches on this list that have great winning percentages, but over the course of one or two seasons (like Steve Kerr, who could join the ranks of elite coaching someday), so I left them out. Apologies to Dick Fitzgerald…whoever that is.

And while it already shows coaching greatness that Thibodeau is listed in the top-10, the matter in which he did it may be even more impressive.

Looking at the other coaches, they all were able to accomplish these fantastic winning seasons year after year. What Thibodeau didn’t have that these coaches had was his star player, who didn’t play in almost half of the games coached by Thibodeau during his time with the Bulls.

Despite Rose’s absence, the Bulls never missed the playoffs and still won at least one playoff game every season of Tom Thibodeau’s tenure in Chicago.  They went head to head with LeBron’s Finals teams and were the worst fear in the post-season for both Cleveland and Miami. The Bulls were well disciplined, incredibly great defensively, and most importantly, winners.

What does Thibodeau not do that the Wolves would want in a head coach? He’s a motivator, defensive-minded, and a winner. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns easily have the potential to be the building blocks for sustained team success.

With Wiggins, the Timberwolves have a great example of player development at the guard position in Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Butler was drafted last in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and Thibodeau helped develop him into an All-Star and one of the best defensive players in the league.

Wiggins was drafted first-overall in 2014. He has that potential, but likely at an even greater level, to be a dominant player on the defensive end and an elite star overall. Imagine what Coach Thibodeau could do for this young ascending talent?

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Some critics of his coaching say Tom works his players too hard or that he’s too serious. In my opinion, Minnesota needs to work hard and be serious if they plan to be a playoff team in the always loaded Western Conference.

We’ve talked about this at length here at DWW: Minnesota was awful defensively last season with an appalling 109.6 defensive rating. While there are no guarantees with new coaches, Thibodeau is the most sure thing there is available to change the Wolves into a good defensive team, something that needs to happen to win during the regular season and especially in the post-season.

The Bulls only finished outside of the top-five in defensive rating once during the five seasons Thibodeau was their coach, despite losing their star for long stretches of time and undergoing a barrage of other injuries — something the Wolves are all too familiar with.

What do some of the best teams in the Western Conference have in common? A great coach, of course.

Golden State has Kerr, San Antonio has Gregg Popovich, and Los Angeles has Doc Rivers. They also play defense, something no one can argue Thibodeau doesn’t provide. Look at Memphis: they don’t have a necessarily glamorous roster, yet they’ve been successful in the deep Western Conference year after year because of their stingy defense.

Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor has said that he eventually wants another coach. Flip Saunders will coach the team this season, but this could mean that Taylor is looking to find someone to relieve Saunders of his dual duty as both head of player personnel and head coach by next season. This, hopefully, is the door for the Wolves to bring in one of the winningest coaches of all time: Tom Thibodeau.

He is one heck of a coach, and I would anticipate the Wolves to be one heck of a team under his leadership.

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