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Three Things to Know: Firing Tom Thibodeau almost as much about business as basketball

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Minnesota firing Tom Thibodeau almost as much about business as basketball. Every home game this season, when Tom Thibodeau was introduced as the Timberwolves coach, he has been loudly booed. It started in the preseason and continued through Sunday, when the Lakers came to town.

To be more accurate, Thibodeau is booed by the fans that show up. This season, the Timberwolves are drawing an average of 14,765 people to the Target Center for their home games — 29th in the NBA and 2,291 fewer people per game than showed up a season ago.

That’s a lot of revenue left on the table (it’s not just ticket sales, it’s parking fees and beer sales and kids not buying souvenirs). Things were only going to get worse with Minnesota out of the playoffs and struggling (teams that miss the playoffs tend to see some attendance decline late in the season). That reduced interest also was going to make it harder to sell season tickets for next season — a push that starts for most teams in earnest in the next few weeks..

All of it tied back to Thibodeau being reviled and unpopular as the Timberwolves coach and GM. He completely misread and mishandled the Jimmy Butler situation, his team wasn’t winning, and Thibodeau did not do much if any community outreach — that doesn’t fly in any market, but particularly smaller, more tightly knit ones where the fans want to see the coach as part of the community.

Thibodeau never tried to truly be part of Minnesota.

All that added fuel to the fire under Thibodeau’s hot seat. The basketball issues were bigger, but never underestimate how much money and business decisions can influence an owner to make a change.

Sunday — surprisingly after a blowout win over the Lakers — Minnesota fired Tom Thibodeau as coach and head of basketball operations.

The move itself was not a surprise around the league, only the timing.

Ryan Saunders, the 32-year-old son of legendary Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season. Scott Layden will continue on as GM (the role he played under Thibodeau) through the rest of the season as well. However, there are already a lot of rumors of potential replacements — Fred Hoiberg, Monty Williams, Chauncey Billups — for those jobs.

Make no mistake, there were plenty of basketball reasons to fire Thibodeau as well.

It all starts with the Jimmy Butler debacle. When Thibodeau came to Minnesota this was a young, up-and-coming team, but Thibodeau wanted more veterans and more grit. He convinced owner Glen Taylor to okay a big move, sending Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn (and picks) to Chicago for Butler. But it wasn’t just Butler, Thibodeau got his old Chicago band back together: Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Luol Deng were all brought in. Minnesota got a lot older and much more win now instantly.

It worked well enough for a while. Minnesota made the playoffs last season (on the last day of the season), ending a drought that stretched back to 2004 and the Kevin Garnett/Flip Saunders era.

But rumors of a locker room divide and problems between Butler and the young players — particularly Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins — were already all over the league. Then this summer (Butler says early in the summer, Thibodeau said just before camp) Butler asked for a trade. When he wasn’t moved fast enough for his liking, Butler became a toxic and disruptive force, and a very loud one. Thibodeau held out hope that if he could just get the guys playing and winning, everything would work itself out. After an 0-5 road trip, Thibodeau gave up that dream and traded Butler to Philadelphia.

Combine that with the lack of growth and development of the team on defense, the antiquated offense, and now the franchise being without a lot of the young players seen as the future, and it was just a matter of time until Thibodeau was let go.

Thibodeau only has himself and his stubbornness to blame for this. That’s true of the Butler situation, the team’s dated play on the court (and lack of three-point shooting), and Thibodeau’s lack of connection with the community. Thibodeau brought all of that down on himself.

Just don’t sell the business side short in assessing what led up to Thibs’ firing. There was a reason Minnesota CEO Ethan Casson — the head of team marketing and the business side of the operation — was in the room Sunday when the ax fell.

2) Thibodeau was fired after a big Karl-Anthony Towns night that exploited struggling Lakers. Thibodeau’s job being in jeopardy was far from news, but the timing of his firing was the surprise — his team had just blown out the Lakers at home, 108-86.

Karl-Anthony Towns had maybe his best game of the season: 28 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

On the flip side, the Lakers fell to 1-5 without LeBron and their young stars asked to step up and lead in his absence — Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram — continue to be MIA. Ball had zero points in the loss, while Ingram had 13 but needed 16 shots to get there.

Ingram just has never thrived as the solo playmaker, or even primary one, on the Lakers — when he’s had his best stretches playmaking was done in transition and the duties were split between him, Ball, and sometimes either Julius Randle or Lou Williams (neither of those two is with the team anymore). When he is decisive and doesn’t hold the ball and survey good things happen. However, just give Ingram the ball out top in the halfcourt, maybe with a screen, and ask him to create and he is not going to be efficient. He has moments off the ball or in a role, he can exploit some matchups, but he just is not a No.1 or even a No. 2 option an offensive creator. Despite the Lakers efforts to make him one.

Ball just floats in and out of games too much this season. He still thrives when they run, he’s a good defender, he can hit threes, but ask him to create in the halfcourt off a pick, ask him to drive, and he struggles to make the right read and play. His instincts with the ball in transition do not translate to the halfcourt where instant recognition of defensive movement matters. Plus, Ball is just not confident with a floater or shooting at the rim, and he’s in his own head about free throws so he avoids contact.

After Sunday’s loss, Laker coach Luke Walton said the team needed “…more passion. We need more fight. And that’s not scoring more.” He wants them to be leaders. This season was always in part about seeing if they could be and if they could play next to LeBron. The answers so far are not what Walton and the Lakers hoped.

3) Dwyane Wade hits his 500th three, joins an elite club. As Wade’s “last dance” farewell tour continues, he continues to make history. Sunday, in what was an otherwise a game Miami would like to flush — they shot 14.7 percent from three and were blown out by the lowly Hawks — late in the third quarter Wade hit a three sliding to his left.

That was Wade’s 500th career three. With it, Wade joined Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history with at least 20,000 points, 5,000 assists, 4,000 rebounds, 1,500 steals, 800 blocks, and 500 made threes.

That’s some elite company. Next stop for Wade is the Hall of Fame.

Andre Drummond gets elbowed, loses tooth, kicks chair out of his way (video)

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Andre Drummond keeps looking ornery.

His Pistons stink. He’s in the midst of trade rumors, though apparently not headed to the Hawks or Knicks. And he was on the wrong end of Thomas Bryant‘s hustle during Detroit’s loss to the Wizards yesterday.

Drummond got elbowed in the face and lost a tooth. Then, while exiting the floor, he kicked a chair out of his way.

Drummond:

It was surprising Bryant didn’t get called for anything, especially because Pistons forward Markieff Morris had already been ejected for this flagrant 2 on Davis Bertans:

LeBron James on fan throwing item at Bronny during game: ‘Just disrespectful’

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LeBron James‘ son, Bronny, has an incredible amount of attention on him for a high schooler.

Unfortunately, someone took it too far while Bronny was playing a game in Massachusetts yesterday. A young-looking fan threw something at Bronny during a game.

LeBron:

LeBron, via ESPN:

“I didn’t see it or hear it, actually. While I was on the opposite side of the floor, I did see the referee stop the game or stop the inbound, and the cop came up there,” he said. “I didn’t even know what happened until the video evidence showed me when I got here.

“It’s just disrespectful, and it was a little kid too. I don’t know how old that little kid was, so I don’t know if he learned that on his own or if he learned it at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s disrespectful. I wonder how old that kid is, if he is the age around Bronny’s age [15] or [James’ son] Bryce’s age [12]. I’d like to see them try that while they’re paying attention.”

You can hear LeBron as a parent in these words, wondering the age of the thrower and where he learned the behavior.

It’s a shame the fan acted this way. Hopefully, someone teaches him a lesson about why this was wrong.

Three Things to Know: Don’t take Damian Lillard for granted, he explodes for 61 points

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard explodes for 61, reminds everyone he is elite. It’s not so much that Damian Lillard is forgotten by fans around the nation as much as just taken for granted. Because he plays in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t end up on national television all that often, and because he’s been consistently so good for so long (but without the Trail Blazers being seen as a real threat to win a ring), fans sleep on him being one of the best and most entertaining guards in the NBA.

Not on Monday.

On Martin Luther King Day, Lillard reminded everyone just how special he can be scoring 61 points, knocking down 11 threes, and scoring seven in overtime to make sure Portland beat Golden State in a showcase TNT game.

The Warriors threw every defense they could find at Lillard: Double teams, a few triple teams, and most of the night Warriors players would pick him up full court. It didn’t matter. Lillard looked every bit the guy who finished top six in MVP voting the past two seasons, the All-NBA guard the last two seasons (and likely a third in a row this season), the guy who just can’t be stopped when he is on. Lillard scored 42 through the first three quarters, added a dozen more — including some clutch threes — in the fourth, then had seven more in OT. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lillard will likely get taken for granted again by fans this season, especially on a Portland team that is 19-26 and made a trade over the weekend — sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan — that was about cutting the team’s luxury tax bill in half. It also signaled to the league the Blazers would be sellers at the trade deadline, looking to get out of the tax entirely. (Expect for Portland to try and ship out Hassan Whiteside in a money-saving trade next.)

It’s a trade that largely waved the white flag on the season. Maybe things go right, Jusuf Nurkic comes back and Portland makes a push up to the final playoff slot in the West — and that’s a big maybe — but they are not a postseason threat this year.

Just don’t wave the white flag on Lillard, he’s still one of the game’s elite guards.

2) Kemba Walker owns LeBron James (at least once in the last 29 games, but he’ll take it). Kemba Walker, toiling away his career in Charlotte on teams where the dream was just making the playoffs, never seemed a threat to the LeBron James juggernauts in Miami and Cleveland. LeBron had beaten Walker 28 consecutive times.

Monday it was Walker’s turn.

Boston crushed the Lakers in a game that had fans flipping over to America’s Got Talent because there was more drama on that stage than the TD Garden. The Celtics took charge with a 12-1 run in the second, grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.7 percent of their missed shots for the game (led by Ennis Kanter), got 20 points from Walker and 27 from Jayson Tatum in a “don’t you dare leave me out of the All-Star Game” performance, and cruised to a 139-107 thumping of the Lakers. Boston led by 14 at half and the entire fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

Jaylen Brown dunking on LeBron pretty much sums up the night.

After that play, Brown stared down LeBron and got a technical — I hate that tech. Let the players show some emotion, let a little trash talk go down. If we wanted emotionless performances we’d put on a Keanu Reeves movie.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said after the game (via the AP). “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

For the Lakers, this is a was a “flush it and move on” game that happens to every team over the course of a season. I’d be careful reading too much into this one game. Anthony Davis returned from his bruised tailbone but looked rusty. LeBron was just off, the Boston defense took Los Angeles out of their flow, and the Lakers stood around a lot and didn’t move off the ball. Marcus Smart had a good defensive game, Tatum’s length helped on that end, but mostly this was just an off night for the Lakers. There are questions about this Los Angeles roster, but one night in Boston didn’t tell us much about them.

3) Russell Westbrook now has a triple-double against every team in the NBA. Before MLK Day, only LeBron James had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook, welcome to that club. Monday he scored 32 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds against the one team still on his list — the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he had played up until this season.

Much like Lillard (mentioned above), we tend to take for granted just how impressive a player Westbrook is — triple-doubles are hard to come by and he just racks them up like they’re his birthright. We need to take a step back and admire what Westbrook does. we’re not going to see the likes of him for a while.

Westbrook’s play didn’t turn around Houston’s slump. The Rockets fell to the Thunder 112-107, that’s four losses in a row and 5-of-6 for the Rockets. In a tight West, these kinds of streaks can damage playoff seeding and Houston needs to right the ship quickly.

Friends reach out offering help after disturbing video of Delonte West surfaces

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Delonte West battled bipolar disorder during his eight NBA seasons, a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions likely tied to his condition.

He’s been out of the league since 2012, but his challenges have not changed. Over the weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and apparently talking to the police (or waiting to talk to them), where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him.

In the wake of that, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate Jameer Nelson posted this on Twitter:

West’s former coach at St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli followed that us, as did others on social media.

Others who knew West also chimed in:

Let’s hope West gets the help he needs.