During his introductory news conference, new Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau was circumspect when talking about expectations.
Get used to that. Thibodeau is not going to do any verbal break dancing for our amusement. He’s much more likely to shoo people away so he can break down video of his 12th-favorite inbounds play.
Earlier in the day, Thibodeau was more blunt. According to team employees, he said at the all-staff meeting that everyone who works for the Timberwolves should be preparing to win championships.
That notion isn’t unprecedented in Wolves history; it only feels that way. The Wolves of Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury were promising. The Wolves of Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were good enough to win it all.
Even given those fleeting good times, what became evident during Tuesday’s events is that the Timberwolves have never had quite so much reason for optimism as they have now.
Most introductory news conferences are stiff and awkward. This one, if you listened closely, was remarkable.
Thibodeau wasn’t just the best coach on the market. He was the only top coaching candidate who could tell stories about the Timberwolves’ original owners, coaching with Bill Musselman, wearing a mullet in the Metrodome, and trading “Muss” stories with Flip Saunders.
In one conversation, Thibodeau made the losingest and most star-crossed franchise in Minnesota sports history sound quaint.
Then he made the losingest and most star-crossed franchise in Minnesota sports history sound like a budding dynasty, and did so while sitting next to the assistant general manager of the San Antonio Spurs.
The Timberwolves tried to hire a top assistant general manager in 2009, and wound up settling for David Kahn.
Now they’ve hired a coach who chose to come to Minnesota instead of signing on with the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, and in Scott Layden have poached the assistant GM of one of sports’ model franchises.
Three years ago the Timberwolves were a mediocre team with a star who wanted to leave and a history of bad luck. Now they employ one of the NBA’s best coaches, have a historically good rookie center and perhaps the best young roster in the NBA, and practice in a new, state-of-the-art facility.
Target Center was never a great arena and is now old and bruised. Everything else about the franchise hints at promise and ambition.
Owner Glen Taylor spoke of building a team that could compete for championships for years.
Minnesota fans are jaded, and Timberwolves fans are the most jaded subset of that lot. Marbury imploded what might have become a great team. Cassel and Sprewell committed mutiny when they realized, a year after making the conference finals, they weren’t going to have direct access to Taylor’s bank account.
Nothing can get blown up quite as quickly as NBA expectations, but there is no reason other than paranoia or superstition to think the Wolves as currently constituted can’t become a powerhouse.
‘‘I don’t want to put a lid on what we could do or what we can’t do,” Thibodeau said
The Wolves held the news conference on the floor of Target Center. They haven’t had many good game nights there lately, but the floor has more frequently become the site of good moments.
There was the night they found out they had landed the first pick in the NBA draft, causing Saunders to joyfully cry. There was the night they selected Karl-Anthony Towns. Tuesday, there was the introduction of a tremendous coach.
“I’m very excited,” Taylor said. “I’m excited for myself. I’m excited for the fans. I’m excited for our team. I’m excited for all of the employees of the Timberwolves.
“Why am I excited? Because you only get this unique opportunity to go for the top every once in a while in your lifetime.”
Taylor is publicly talking of championships. Thibodeau is mentioning them behind the scenes. Suddenly that word doesn’t sound ridiculous echoing around the scarred walls of Target Center.