The Timberwolves and Tom Thibodeau won the battle of black and white this season. They stumbled in areas more gray, where decisionmaking and philosophy became murky.
The Wolves improved by 16 games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but circumstances nag.
Ricky Rubio played well and won a playoff series in Utah, while Jeff Teague often looked as uncomfortable in Thibodeau’s offense as had Rubio. Did Thibs choose the wrong point guard?
Andrew Wiggins regressed in the wake of Thibodeau’s trade of Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler. Did Thibs choose the wrong young talent?
Jamal Crawford declined the player option on his contract. Two free agents signed to strengthen the Wolves bench wound up playing less than expected — Cole Aldrich, then Crawford. As Thibodeau looks to build a stronger bench, he’ll have to persuade free agents that they will be given playing time. Will they believe him?
Thibodeau became a head coach because of his prowess as a defensive coordinator. The Wolves finished 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating this season. Can he get his current players to believe in his approach?
Thibodeau has become the last remaining NBA coach with full power over personnel decisions. There is good reason for this trend. As a passionate, dedicated coach, Thibodeau can’t simultaneously work the phones and run practices. Can he prove he’s the rare coach who can do both jobs?
Given the power to curate his staff as he sees fit, Thibodeau has already made significant changes. Player development coach Vince Legarza worked closely with Karl-Anthony Towns, and assistant coach Rick Brunson resigned, with an NBA source telling the Star Tribune that Brunson had been the subject of complaints. Shouldn’t Thibodeau have known better than to hire Brunson?
The Timberwolves’ statement read, in part: “Our entire organization — made up of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Minnesota Lynx and Iowa Wolves — is deeply committed to creating a safe work environment for our employees, partners and fans.
“Our teams strive to have our actions reflect our values each and every day. We work to maintain high standards of conduct and expect our staff to lead by example. We did not believe Mr. Brunson’s conduct was consistent with those standards.”
That’s a much better window into Brunson’s behavior than his agent’s desperate, and seemingly inaccurate, defense of his client. Thibodeau brought Brunson to Minnesota after Brunson was acquitted of sexual abuse in Chicago. Brunson has not been found guilty of anything, but he has created similar and serious concerns in two of his past three NBA stops.
Thibodeau can quell concerns with another season of improvement, but his decisions have left little margin for error.
• Why was the University of Minnesota wise to hire Lindsay Whalen despite her lack of experience as a head coach?
Because if Minnesota hired an experienced coach without Minnesota ties who succeeded, that coach would use the Gophers job to procure a better one.
If Whalen succeeds — and she’s already landed a couple of top recruits — she’ll stay.
• However his hirings work out, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle has proved that he’s organized and aggressive. Too often, ADs rely on search committees to handle the most important aspect of their jobs — hiring for major positions. Coyle quickly and decisively landed P.J. Fleck (who might have been the best coaching candidate on the market), Whalen and Bob Motzko. That’s quite different from the process by which the Gophers wound up with Tim Brewster.
• If I had asked, three years ago, which Twins prospect would be the first to play in 150 games and hit at least 27 home runs in one season, would you have guessed it would be Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco or Max Kepler?
Turns out, it was none of the above. Eddie Rosario is the only young Twin who has played in 150 games in a season, and he and Sano are the only two of that group who have hit 27 or more home runs in a season. Rosario has easily been the most productive of the team’s top prospects.