Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, as first reported by Shams Charania.
The news was a bit of a shock as it came a matter of minutes after the Wolves beat the Lakers 108-86. Minnesota improved to 19-21 with the victory, but they are still two games outside the playoffs in the deep Western Conference.
The Timberwolves have resembled a soap opera in recent months. The Jimmy Butler trade made Thibodeau’s fate inevitable, yet this is a strange time to make such a move. They are still in contention in the West despite a woeful 5-15 record on the road.
Injury to Robert Covington is a major concern too, as his arrival has seen a leap in the team’s defence. The T-Wolves had struggled desperately on that end of the floor in the Butler era. Covington has taken the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s best players and has pulled their defensive rating up to 17th in the NBA for the season.
Thibodeau underachieved with the Wolves, and his failure to fix the franchise’s relationship with Butler meant his days were numbered. Letting the former Bulls coach remain until the end of the season still seemed the most likely decision from the Timberwolves hierarchy, however, considering that he ended their 18-year playoff drought last season.
The Timberwolves appointing Hoiberg would be a fitting next step in the link between the teams. Hiring the coaches the Bulls fire is an interesting strategy.
Billups would likely be appointed as general manager. He is currently working as an analyst for ESPN but has frequently been linked with open positions. Scott Layden remains as general manager for now, though that might not be the case for long.
Ryan Saunders, who was an assistant to Thibodeau, will coach the team on an interim basis.
Changes are clearly needed around the organisation. Sacking Thibodeau right now, though, seems premature. The team have been inconsistent all year – only time will tell if this is the right decision.
Getting the best out of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns will ultimately be what Thibodeau’s successor is judged on. They are the future of the franchise, and must become more reliable if Minnesota are to become contenders in the West.