Tom Thibodeau was making the rounds of media outlets at the State Fair, and included a stop at an AM station that focuses on sports for 21 ½ hours per weekday.
Thibs took up station on the porch and talked for 15 minutes in a jovial and optimistic fashion about the 2017-18 Timberwolves, the local NBA team made over to his liking for a second season as coach and president of basketball.
Those of us involved in the broadcast, and the thousands (OK, maybe it was a couple of dozen) standing in front of the porch agreed what we were seeing here was an all-new, relaxed Thibs, now that he had Jimmy Butler and some other familiar veterans on his side.
Three weeks later, I was attending interview sessions for the Wolves media day, and must admit that the jovial, relaxed Thibs of the State Fair can be written off as a small sample size.
The Timberwolves have been starved for attention for years in this crowded sports market – so much so that they appeared to underestimate the level of intrigue the Twin Cities media has in this new roster.
Either that, or there wasn't an available room parge enough in the practice facility, because this space was jammed with reporters and television cameras. This was the lone shot at the Wolves for over two weeks for 98 percent of the media gathering, since the team left for training camp in San Diego on Friday afternoon.
They will practice in paradise for a week, play a couple of exhibitions and then depart to China next weekend to play two exhibitions against the Golden State Warriors.
Thibs is said to be less than pleased with these two days of practice lost on long flights to Asia. And we found during his 20 minutes of answering questions Friday what Thibs would have the athletes working on if he only had those two lost days of gymnasium labor:
“Getting the back foot forward on the defensive closeout.’’
Honest. Whether you’re a player, a media member or a ticket buyer, I have decided that if you take him with the right attitude, Thibs is hilarious.
I regret not counting precisely, but it had to be eight times minimum that he cited the improvement this team can make defensively if the players get their back foot forward on a closeout.
There is no greater junkie in sports than the basketball junkie. I’m not talking about fans; I’m talking the basketball junkie coach.
We all listened to Hubie Brown on TV analyzing every trip down the court as if it should be designed as intricately as a football play. Amidst the chaos and a 15-second possession, Hubie could find four major screw-ups that either led to allowing a basket or failing to score a basket.
These basketball-as-trigonometry guys are hilarious – and Thibs is one of ‘em.
Bill Musselman was the first coach to bring Thibodeau to the NBA with the Timberwolves in 1989, and Thibs certainly does not have the same outgoing personality as did The Muss.
What the late, wacky, wonderful Musselman and Thibodeau have shared is the absolute obsession with basketball.
The fact that Thibodeau could spend his offseason endlessly pouring over 82 games (31-51) worth of video, and see his defenders fail to put a back foot forward on a closeout until it frustrated him to the point it now controls his every waking moment …
You gotta love it.
The Timberwolves meandering over the next couple of weeks is tied to the fact the construction crews have not yet completed the $140 million remodeling of Target Center. They won’t have a game there until the home opener on Oct. 20 vs. Utah.
This is good news for Wolves season-ticket holders, as they won’t be ripped off to pay for an exhibition or two – in contrast to Wild ticket holders being held up for full price for the annual three exhibitions in St. Paul.
The bad part of it is that Target Center regulars in the lower bowl won’t be able to observe Thibodeau watching every movement and, using his Hubie Brown-like powers, see a mistake, spin furiously to shout at an assistant, “Write that down,’’ and turn back without missing a dribble.
And I have a new theory after Friday on the moment Wolves followers can be certain that this team, this franchise, is finally on the right track after 13 lost seasons:
It’s not the much-repeated nonsense about needing to make more three-pointers. It’s when we see those back feet moving forward on defensive closeouts, with the precision of ah, uh … OK, the Rockettes at their Christmas show.
Then we'll know.
So, get on ‘em, Thibs. Get that back foot a-movin’.