After new Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau landed his first NBA assistant job with the Wolves for their 1989-90 expansion season, he ended up coaching several players who eventually became NBA head coaches — including the man he is replacing, Sam Mitchell.
Also on that first Wolves team was Sidney Lowe — who was head coach of the Wolves from 1992-94 and Vancouver/Memphis from 2000-2003, and who served as an assistant coach under Mitchell this season — and Tyrone Corbin, who was head coach at Utah for three seasons (2011-2014) and served as interim coach at Sacramento during the 2014-2015 season.
During the 1990-91 and 1991-92 Wolves seasons, Thibodeau also coached Scott Brooks, the guard who eventually became head coach at Oklahoma City from 2008-2015 and took them to the NBA Finals. Brooks was hired as head coach at Washington on Thursday.
Thibodeau and Brooks were two coaches with great track records who were unjustly fired. Both were finalists for the Wolves job that eventually went to Thibodeau on Wednesday.
Thibodeau talked in 2011 about his time in Minnesota and what a great group of people he worked with. Looking at the legacy of that expansion team, and the number of quality players and coaches it produced, it’s hard to underestimate what a great coach Bill Musselman was in cultivating talent.
“I’ve been fortunate to be with some really good teams and organizations over the years, but I look at Minnesota as a very positive situation,” Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune. “You measure coaching by how much you get out of your team. And I thought we got the most out of that team.
“We played hard most every night. We played smart. We played together. Most nights, we had a chance to win. So to me, I view that as being very successful.”
Thibodeau also talked about working with Musselman with the Albany Patroons in the CBA.
“That was my first experience of really seeing how pro ball worked,” he said. “I was fascinated with everything [Musselman] was doing in practice. They weren’t long but very, very precise. We developed a friendship. He went on to win the CBA championship that year, his fourth straight with four different teams.
“And the following year he got hired by Minnesota, but they didn’t have a team yet. So whenever he traveled through Boston, we’d get together and talk basketball. The following year he had a number of free-agent camps and he invited me to work those camps. From there, I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to get in the NBA. He was terrific to me.”
Praise from Breuer
Another player on that expansion Wolves squad under Musselman and Thibodeau was center Randy Breuer. The former Gophers standout, who was traded to the Wolves from Milwaukee, played 51 games that season and started 47. Breuer averaged 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 blocks with the Wolves that year.
Breuer said Thibodeau, who was 32 at the time, was a raw talent, but he also thought Thibodeau could develop into a great coach.
“I thought he showed potential,” Breuer said. “There was a lot of stuff he had to learn, how to deal with players and work with players, and he was eager to learn.
“Really, I thought he had the potential to be a great coach. He had to put the work in and put the time in to understand the NBA game.”
Thibodeau has spent 27 years in the NBA — including five successful seasons as head coach of the Bulls with a 255-139 record — and become one of the most respected coaches in the league, known for his ability to coach defense.
Breuer recalled Musselman being a stern coach who controlled every aspect of the team, an approach Thibodeau often emulates.
“[Thibodeau] was eager to learn, he was decent,” Breuer said. “He was an assistant coach under Musselman and Musselman ran the team with an iron fist. [Thibodeau] would put in his two cents whenever he could, and Musselman either takes your advice or didn’t take your advice.”
Breuer still follows the Wolves and said Thibodeau’s defensive mind-set is just what the team needs.
“For this team to be successful, they have to bring somebody in who can coach defense,” he said. “From what I’ve watched over the last 5-10 years, they just have not had a good defensive coach that teaches the players rotations.
“You go over everything you think you need to go over with a pick-and-roll defense, but when I see a team pick and roll against our team, it just looks like they just either switch and it ends up being a dunk and the other three guys on the court aren’t paying attention to the help-side defense. The five-man [defensive] rotation isn’t there.”
• When I talked to Thibodeau on the phone Thursday, he verified that he didn’t talk to the search firm hired by Wolves owner Glen Taylor until Wednesday. … He also said he was not going to hire any assistants until he visits with the current Wolves staff. All of the assistant coaches under him in his last year coaching the Bulls got NBA jobs after Thibodeau was fired. His 2014-2015 staff included Adrian Griffin (now with Orlando), Andy Greer (Toronto), Ed Pinckney (Denver) and Mike Wilhelm, the only assistant Fred Hoiberg, Thibodeau’s successor, kept with the Bulls.
• Rest assured that Kevin Garnett, who played with the Celtics while Thibodeau was an assistant coach for three seasons under Doc Rivers and won the NBA title in 2007-2008, recommended the new Wolves coach highly to Taylor. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Garnett back to play next season.
• Hopkins standout Amir Coffey played in the Jordan Brand Classic last week for the West Team and finished with seven points on 3-for-6 shooting to go along with two rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes.
• Former Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks was hitting only .050 for the Yankees through Wednesday, but he made one of the great plays of the young season Wednesday when he threw out former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, now with the Oakland A’s, at home plate. That throw that was clocked by StatCast at 105.5 miles per hour, the fastest throw ever recorded by an outfielder.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org