The timing of the firing came as a surprise — a shock, even — to many, including Tom Thibodeau himself. His fate as head coach of the Timberwolves was sealed when heralded acquisition of Jimmy Butler, supposedly the last piece they needed to compete with the best of the best, instead left in bad terms after a single year. Yet, even then, not a few quarters believed he would last the season, especially in light of the improvement, however incremental, they showed in the wake of the disgruntled All-Star’s departure.
As odd as the decision of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor looked, however, timing was precisely what drove him to act. For one thing, he remained intent on seeing the blue and green make the playoffs for a second straight campaign, and he was sufficiently alarmed by their 11th-place standing to conclude that separating from Thibodeau pronto was for the best. For another, he looked to the future and saw recently ousted Bulls mentor Fred Hoiberg working for him anew, with the plan taking on a greater sense of urgency in light the latter’s status as a candidate to manage UCLA’s hoops program.
For now, erstwhile assistant Ryan Saunders will take Thibodeau’s spot on the bench. The ascent, albeit temporary, reflects Taylor’s predilection to tap those he has already had dealings with. Based on reports, the list of possible hires includes Chauncey Billups, who, not coincidentally, played for the Timberwolves at the turn of the millennium. In any case, the objective is clear: crack the Top Eight in the West and make an impact moving forward. It’s why he‘s paying Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins big bucks, and why he’s accepting the burden of Thibodeau’s five-year, $40-million contract signed in 2016.
For Taylor, the good news is that the competition in the National Basketball Association remains wide open. All the travails notwithstanding, the Timberwolves are merely two games out of eighth in the conference. Meanwhile, the addition by subtraction figures to motivate Towns and Wiggins. Enough to cause a stir in the playoffs? Only time will tell.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.