Tom Thibodeau’s seat was known to be hot and getting warmer, but this was not expected to happen so soon.
The Minnesota Timberwolves — who are a disappointing 19-21 and out of the playoffs as of today — have fired coach and team president Tom Thibodeau. Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic broke the story, the Timberwolves have since confirmed it.
Scott Layden, who was the GM working under Thibodeau’s direction, will continue in that role.
Ryan Suanders is the son of legendary Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders and had been an assistant with the team. At age 32, he is now the youngest coach in the NBA.
“We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”
As noted above, this was expected by executives and others around the league, although most sources said it would happen over the summer, or certainly at least after the All-Star break. Owner Glen Taylor decided not to wait that long, and certainly the business side of the operation — which had long clashed with Thibodeau — was supportive of the move.
One other note about Taylor: He is a big Fred Hoiberg fan, which has made the former Bulls coach getting one of Thibodeau’s jobs — coach or head of basketball operations — very likely. As a source told NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh:
“Glen loves Fred,” the source told NBC Sports.
We aren’t the only one hearing this.
Last season the Minnesota Timberwolves ended the longest playoff drought in the NBA, making the playoffs for the first time since 2004, also known as the Kevin Garnett era. Thibodeau had been brought in to elevate a young core with an elite center in Karl-Anthony Towns and former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Thinking the team needed defense and toughness, Thibodeau traded other young stars — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and draft picks — to Chicago to bring in his old friend Jimmy Butler. It was a big bet by Thibodeau and it paid off in that the Timberwolves made the playoffs. They looked like a team on the rise, one finally starting to live up to its potential.
This summer everything came apart.
There had already been rumors all over the league that the Timberwolves locker room was a mess, with Butler not getting along with Towns or Wiggins and there being some battle for being the alpha on the team. Those rumors included Taylor considering firing Thibodeau over the summer, because he realized things were bad, then deciding he couldn’t do it after making the playoffs.
Once Butler decided he wanted out things got ugly. His decision may have been over a “whose team is this” argument, and Towns had just gotten a max rookie contract extension over the summer. Towns is the future of the franchise. (Sources have told NBC Sports Butler did ask for a massive contract increase — one to rival Towns — but it was not something Minnesota could do without gutting its roster.)
Whatever the reason, when Butler wasn’t traded fast enough for his liking he started a campaign to force a trade that demoralized and demolished Minnesota’s training camp, including saying he didn’t like the competitiveness and work ethic of Towns and Wiggins. Thibodeau dragged his feet on a trade, thinking if everyone started playing together it would work out, but even he eventually had to give in and traded Butler to Philadelphia.
By that point, Thibodeau’s fate was all but sealed. With the Timberwolves on track to miss the playoffs again, pressure was building in Minnesota to act.
The end just came sooner than expected.