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The Angles: Tom Thibodeau’s Firing Makes Sense for Nonsensical Wolves

Jan 08, 2019 11:00 AM EST

Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tom Thibodeau

  • Late on Sunday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves parted ways with head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau.
  • What does this move mean for both Thibodeau and the Wolves? Should Minnesota start another rebuild?

Well, that was weird.

No one — not media, not league personnel polled Sunday, not a fan in Minnesota — was surprised that the Wolves let Tom Thibodeau go as coach on Sunday night after blistering the No-Bron Lakers by 20.

That decision seemed inevitable after Jimmy Butler demanded a trade and reports surfaced that Thibodeau as acting President of Basketball Operations was continuing to slow-roll trade efforts.

It seemed urgent after Butler’s coordinated PR blitz where he showed up for practice, embarrassed the starters, trash-talked the front office (including Thibodeau) and then went out for a planned interview with ESPN.

And yet, the season began, and there Thibs stood on the sideline, barking out defensive orders as usual. There went Butler, traded to Philadelphia, and Thibs remained.

So in a way, the inexplicable decision to keep Thibodeau throughout this whole ordeal makes the move Sunday more sensible. Of course the Wolves fired their coach after they had won two in a row and five of eight. Of course they made that decision, because their previous set of decisions in keeping him made little sense as well.

In the wake of the Wolves’ move to fire Tom Thibodeau, here are the angles.

ANGLE: No More Coach-Presidents

The Clippers separated themselves from Doc Rivers’ imperial hold last year.

The Pistons cleared away from Stan Van Gundy’s dual control.

Gregg Popovich is the only one who remains in a position of such power in both coaching and front office influence.

Thibodeau was the last of the power coaches from the late 2000s and early 2010s to have captured dual roles on a team. There are certainly coaches with huge front office influence: Steve Kerr, Rick Carlisle, Rivers, etc.

However, we’ve learned conclusively that the model doesn’t work.

The separation model operates better on multiple levels. It removes a lot of the complications that come from having a coach forced to made hard-line decisions.

Coaches develop affections for players, their personalities, their competitive spirit (which all coaches constantly want more of), their games.

Tyus Jones is the future at point guard in Minnesota. How was he ever going to grow with Jeff Teague in front of him, let alone Derrick Rose, the man Thibs will likely have inducted into some obscure state or regional Hall of Fame someday?

Coaches get attached. Executives do, too, but they are forced to see things from a distance. They aren’t in every practice. They are watching all the games all the time.

If there was one thing to define Thibodeau’s tenure in Minnesota, it was that he was never able to see the forest for the trees.