Tom Thibodeau reorganized the Timberwolves to fit his style in his 2½ years as coach and president of basketball operations.
Time will tell if the team will have more success under interim coach Ryan Saunders than it did under Thibodeau. The Wolves were 19-21 when Thibodeau was fired on Jan. 6 and are 2-2 under Saunders heading into Friday’s game with San Antonio.
It does appear that Saunders is using the assistant coaches more and playing a deeper rotation of players than the nine-man rotation Thibodeau typically used.
The biggest question for the Wolves remains if Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, who have played pretty well of late, will continue to soar with the coaching change.
But looking back at Thibodeau’s reign and the Jimmy Butler era, which had been a real headache, it exploded on Tuesday night in the Wolves’ 149-107 loss at Philadelphia, and once again told the story that the 2017 draft-night trade with Chicago for Butler never should have been made.
There is no doubt that the 76ers were on fire in that victory, shooting 59.8 percent from the floor compared to 38.9 percent for the Wolves, and wanted to make Butler look good against his former team.
The rumors out of Philadelphia for a few weeks have been that Butler is not getting along with coach Brett Brown and does not like the team’s offensive game plan. But on Tuesday, the Sixers put all that behind them against the Wolves.
Getting back to the Wolves’ decision to acquire Butler from the Bulls, as I have said before, you do not make that deal unless you know you can sign him to a long-term contract, and Thibodeau did not do that.
Young stars traded
The question will always be, would the Wolves have been better off keeping the core of Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn instead of trading away LaVine, Dunn and the No. 7 overall draft choice — which ended up as Lauri Markkanen, a potential superstar — for Butler and the No. 16 overall pick, which was used on Justin Patton.
Do the stats show that it would have been better to keep that group than gamble on Butler’s status?
With the Bulls this season, LaVine was averaging 23.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. Dunn was averaging 12.8 points, 6.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. And Markkanen, who missed 23 games because of injury, was averaging 16.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.
While Butler was very good for the Wolves for one season, making the Western Conference All-Star team, his forced trade and a miserable start to this season might have removed any chance the Wolves have of making the playoffs. Patton, injured most of his rookie year, has still only played in one NBA game in his career.
Now Thibodeau might have salvaged some of that value when he got Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jarryd Bayless from the 76ers for Butler and Patton, but it’s hard to say if those three are better than keeping LaVine and Dunn and potentially having Markkanen.
Since the trade, Butler has averaged 19.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists for Philadelphia. He had 19 points, three rebounds, four assists, one block and two steals on Tuesday. In 69 career games with the Wolves, he averaged 22.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
Meanwhile, Covington has been great for the Wolves, averaging 14.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, but the 6-9 forward has missed the past seven games because of a deep bone bruise. Saric is averaging 10.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game here. Bayless, in limited action, is averaging 2.0 points and 1.6 assists.
The records show that since the trade, the 76ers are 21-10 while the Wolves are 17-14.
Hits and misses
As for the other personnel decisions Thibodeau has made, one of his biggest was moving on from point guard Ricky Rubio, trading him to Utah for a draft pick that ended up netting Josh Okogie, and signing free-agent point guard Jeff Teague from Atlanta.
Rubio has played in 117 of a possible 127 games for Utah over two seasons. This season, he is averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds, and the Jazz, with a 24-21 record, currently hold a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Teague is averaging 11.7 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds this season. He has played in 99 of a possible 126 games for the Wolves.
Two moves that are really hard to argue with when it comes to Thibodeau were his decisions to bring in former Bulls players Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.
Rose is averaging 18.8 points, 4.8 assist and 2.8 rebounds per game and seems poised to become the first Wolves player to start in the All-Star Game since Kevin Love in 2014.
Gibson is averaging 10.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game and has been one of the steadiest players on the roster.
While both Gibson and Rose can become unrestricted free agents after this season, Teague has a player option on his deal that could pay him $19 million next season, or he could opt to become a free agent if he wants to leave the team. If Teague wants to come back, the Wolves will have no choice but to pay him.
But if he doesn’t come back and Saunders is still coaching the team, maybe the Wolves would make a push to bring back Rubio, who is also an unrestricted free agent.
Hockey at Target Field
Twins President Dave St. Peter and Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle are talking about the Maroon and Gold playing a team such as North Dakota or Wisconsin in an outdoor men’s hockey game at Target Field.
Coyle was asked about those discussions.
“We have had some initial conversations about having an outdoor hockey game at Target Field and that is something we would have an interest in doing,” he said. “It exposes the great sport of hockey and is something unique for our fan base and for the hockey fans in the state of Minnesota. We would be open to that if it worked out with the Twins and Dave.”
Vikings’ baby boom
The Vikings released some unique news in that four players celebrated the arrival of children to their families in recent weeks.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph and wife Jordan had a son, Henry, on Monday. A week earlier, wide receiver Adam Thielen and wife Caitlin had a son, Hudson.
On Dec. 28, long snapper Kevin McDermott and wife Lauren became first-time parents to daughter Campbell. And on Nov. 27, fullback C.J. Ham and wife Stephanie welcomed their second daughter, Stella.