Their most important players are young enough to get carded at every bar in America, but as an organization? The Timberpuppies may have just grown up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau to be their head coach. That is the best possible move they could have made, and it is encouraging for more than the obvious reason — that Thibodeau is good at his job.
It’s also encouraging because the Timberwolves immediately identified him as the best available head coach, and hired him quickly and after firing former favorite son Sam Mitchell.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor, maestro of so much former dysfunction, acted quickly, decisively, aggressively and correctly, and in doing so may be creating a powerhouse NBA franchise even as he edges toward the exit.
That’s not even the best part of this hire. The best part is that the best available coach wanted to coach the Timberwolves.
Thibodeau could have sought out the Knicks job, or could have waited for another so-called glamour job. Instead, he chose to winter in Minnesota instead of working for Phil Jackson, coaching Carmelo Anthony and striding around Madison Square Garden. This is what the basketball world looks like when it stands on its head.
Even more strange is that Tibs made the right choice.
For once, the Wolves were in a no-lose position. Scott Brooks helped develop Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant into superstars and would have been a fine choice to do similar work with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
Jeff Van Gundy is a savvy coach who eventually would have driven everyone crazy. He could have worked well for a year or two before we started calling him Other Van Gundy and wishing he would go back to annoying us with a microphone.
But Thibodeau was the best of the good available options. He’s a workaholic who holds players accountable. He’s an excellent strategist. He’s one of the best defensive coaches in the game.
The Wolves won the day with this hire. Now they need to understand how difficult it is to win a season, no matter how talented your players and coach are.
The NBA is driven by stars, and that means strategic expertise is not always the most important part of a coach’s tool chest. Personality and relationships matter in this league.
Thibodeau is known for yelling out defensive instructions from the sideline on every possession of every game in an 82-game season. His attention to detail is famous, which means that he expects everyone around him to be as attentive.
In a perfect world, all NBA players would appreciate being coached hard and being asked to give maximum effort on the defensive end, and someone with Thibodeau’s personality could coach a lifetime in the same place.
In the real world, even a home-run hire like Thibodeau will face challenges beyond designing inbounds plays. He’ll have to develop a productive long-term relationship with his stars. He’ll have to get them to run through 14 picks on the defensive end without giving them reason to look forward to leaving in free agency. He’ll have to be a caretaker for a fragile franchise as well as the coach who applies verbal spankings.
That’s a difficult job, and that’s why so many good coaches get fired in the NBA. Being a strategic genius guarantees you nothing.
But those are future concerns. Today, the Wolves are more stable and promising than ever before. They aren’t trying to piece together a patchwork lineup around Kevin Garnett in his prime. They aren’t trying to keep Kevin Love happy. They aren’t hiring people for important positions because they’re fun to play golf with, or because their third cousin knows someone in the front office.
Suddenly, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the best young talent in the league and the best available coach working for them.
For all of their losing, the past two years could not have gone better for a franchise trying to build a champion.