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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.

Dion Waiters shows off slimmed down physique on Instagram

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Suddenly the annual “he lost/gained 15 points and is in the best shape of his life” portion of the NBA summer is upon us.

The Miami Heat are known around the league for having one of the best conditioning programs, guys who go there almost universally get in better shape. Dion Waiters last season seemed to be the exception to the rule. Waiters wasn’t 50-year-old-suburban-dad-with-a-beer-gut out of shape, but coming off an injury where he didn’t get to train like he wanted, Waiters didn’t look like a guy in NBA shape either. Critics lit Waiters up on social media.

Waiters posted his response — he’s been hitting the gym.

View this post on Instagram

Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically , Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery. Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst shit in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my ass off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind. #Philly🧀 #stayTune

A post shared by 🔥🔥🔥🔥 (@waiters3) on

Good for Waiters.

Let the flood of NBA workout videos and shots of guys with their new physiques begin.

Philly fans will be hoping to see one from Joel Embiid.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.