At some point on Sunday afternoon, as the Timberwolves dismantled the Lakers 108-86, team CEO Ethan Casson and general manager Scott Layden had to joke that at least Tom Thibodeau got to go out on top.
They fired the head coach in his office shortly after the win.
It didn’t matter that they crushed L.A. despite the absence of Derrick Rose, one of the few guys left on the team considered to be partial to Thibodeau. The decision had been made.
It was strictly business. As far as the franchise was concerned, “Thibs” was bad for it.
Attendance was down with the team in last place. Jimmy Butler asking out after tarnishing the reputation of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the team’s primary building blocks, ultimately foiled Thibodeau’s aspirations of restoring the Timberwolves to a perennial playoff team.
He’d gotten them back in the postseason for the first time since 2004 last season, claiming the No. 8 seed last April and even getting a game off the Rockets before bowing out. Butler wasn’t rewarded with his payday.
Meanwhile, Wiggins and Towns had received over $330 million in extensions, foiling Thibodeau’s vision for meshing his young talents with veterans like Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague, willing defenders whose toughness goes unquestioned.
A scorned Butler blew it all up by forcing his way out of town. Following a period that dragged on too long as Thibodeau hoped Butler would cool off and low-ball offers were fielded, the 76ers finally secured a deal by trading young forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
All the while, owner Glen Taylor favored a trade and hated that his franchise was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
In training camp, Butler destroyed a team led by Towns and Wiggins in a scrimmage with backups as teammates while taking only a single shot, berating Layden, yelling at him, “you can’t win without me.”
That story was leaked to embarrass the Timberwolves into making a move. Even though the Wolves went 9-3 immediately after dealing Butler, they’re just 6-9 since Dec. 8, residing in the Northwest Division cellar.
The Timberwolves tried to bury firing Thibodeau on an NFL playoff Sunday, sending out a press release that he’d been relieved of his duties at 5:35 p.m.
Taylor’s quote was that it was “necessary to move our organization forward.” Only the timing surprised the fired coach.
Layden will stay on as GM. 32-year-old Ryan Saunders will serve as interim head coach. He’s the son of the late Flip Saunders, who passed away due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 after stepping down due to the illness to end his second stint as head coach. The younger Saunders has been on staff since 2014.
Expect former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, fired by Chicago on Dec. 3, to resurface with the Timberwolves sooner than later since he’s a favorite of Taylor’s. The Timberwolves have gotten the keys back from someone they no longer wanted to have a set. They’ll now change the locks.
Fade this transition period since it’s going to come with a few obstacles at the onset.
After visiting Oklahoma City on Tuesday, this new look will debut at home Friday against Dallas. It should be emotional for Saunders and any players and fans who wanted Thibodeau gone.
That said, here are a couple of plays I’m leaning toward involving the Wolves. We’re coming off a strong 2-0 week thanks to the Spurs and for the season, our selections are five games over .500.
Timberwolves at Pelicans (Saturday): They’ll be somewhat spent and are back at it against a Pelicans team that will come into Minneapolis well-rested. Look for New Orleans to win handily on Saturday night. The spread shouldn’t be more than one possession either way. PELICANS
Timberwolves at 76ers (Tuesday): Three nights later, the Timberwolves will be reunited with Butler in Philadelphia.
Even if the spread is double-digits, you’re going to want to lay the points with the 76ers. That’s going to be personal. 76ERS
Last week: 2-0
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