Contrary to other reports, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told me that it wasn’t until about 5:50 p.m. Wednesday when he finally agreed to terms with new head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden, the team’s incoming general manager, on their contracts. Thibodeau is reported to have signed for $40 million and Layden for $10 million on their five-year deals.
The reported $8 million per year will make Thibodeau the third-highest-paid coach in the NBA, trailing only Gregg Popovich of San Antonio ($11 million) and Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers ($10 million), both of whom have dual duties as president of basketball operations and head coach, like Thibodeau.
“I’m excited about it just because they’re very experienced guys,” Taylor said. “Both of them were my top candidates.”
Taylor said the Timberwolves will hold a news conference Saturday or Monday to introduce Thibodeau. Layden will remain with the San Antonio Spurs as assistant general manager throughout their playoff run, with current Wolves GM Milt Newton serving in that role until Layden joins the team.
“I don’t know that [Layden] can come until after [the Spurs] get out of the playoffs, so Milt has to keep running [the team], he has to keep on working and doing the draft [preparation],” Taylor said. “When [Layden] is hired, then we’ll have the two of them meet.”
Taylor said while he was able to sign his ideal candidates for the two positions, he was still pleased with the job interim head coach Sam Mitchell did this past season.
“I hired the best guys I can get,” Taylor said. “I agree that Sam is a really good guy, and I really like him.”
Best job available
Thibodeau will have complete control of personnel decisions with the Wolves, a position he considered the most desirable of those available in the NBA. He had a chance to interview for and get several other jobs this offseason, including potential openings with the Lakers and Knicks.
But the one job he wanted was with the Wolves, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest, of course, was because they have great, young talent. Thibodeau believed he could win right away with the current personnel, plus a high lottery draft pick this year and possibly signing a free agent or two.
Another reason he wanted the job had nothing to do with personnel. His first coaching job in the NBA, at age 32, was as an assistant to Bill Musselman on the Wolves’ expansion team in 1989. Thibodeau is a disciple of Musselman, and that initial squad won 22 games with limited talent.
How do I know? Thibodeau told me this in a phone call to my home Saturday, after I got his e-mail from Eric Musselman, Bill’s son, who is a close friend of Thibodeau and now head coach at the University of Nevada. Thibodeau wanted this job in the worst way, and naturally was looking for any help he could get to land the position.
The conversation with Thibodeau was off the record at the time, but he told me he was scheduled to meet with Jed Hughes, whose search firm Taylor hired earlier this week to locate the best coaching candidate. Thibodeau already had plans to meet with Taylor.
I know Hughes, too, because he was Vikings defensive backs coach for Bud Grant in 1982-83 before giving up coaching and entering his current profession.
Bulls loss, Wolves gain
I’ve known Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago Bulls, for 25 years. I could never understand why he allowed Bulls GM Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson to fire Thibodeau.
There’s no question he had a fantastic record with the Bulls (255-139), and he was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2011-12. So firing him just so Forman and Paxson could hire former Wolves player/executive Fred Hoiberg as the new coach never made a lot of sense to me. That’s no reflection on Hoiberg’s coaching ability, just Thibodeau’s talent.
The Bulls missed the playoffs this season for the first time in five years, after reaching the postseason in all five seasons under Thibodeau. Yes, the Bulls probably could have won an NBA championship if it wasn’t for injuries to standout point guard Derrick Rose, who played only 181 of a possible 394 games under Thibodeau. The incoming Wolves boss seemed to have worse luck with injuries than any coach in the NBA.
After speaking with him, it’s my opinion he wanted this job as badly as the Wolves wanted him.
I might sound like a hypocrite because I was upset when Taylor decided not to retain Mitchell as head coach. But by hiring Thibodeau, Taylor did a fantastic job. Thibodeau could have got almost any job available in the NBA, including for some marquee franchises.
Defense will improve
One thing the Wolves lacked this past season was a consistently strong defense. They will play defense under Thibodeau or they will warm the bench. With Thibodeau’s defensive coaching skills and the team’s offensive ability, look for the Wolves to be the biggest surprise in the NBA next year.
In Thibodeau’s five seasons in Chicago, the Bulls finished second, first, third, first and ninth in the NBA in team defense. In those same seasons, the Wolves finished 30th, 25th, 13th, 25th and 30th. This year under Mitchell, the Wolves were 23rd in team defense.
Rest assured that Thibodeau will be running the draft, although Taylor said Newton will continue preparing for the draft until at least June 30.
Taylor is also hiring Layden, who has been instrumental in the great drafts and personnel moves made by the Spurs in the past four years.
Another plus for the Wolves is that Thibodeau has a great relationship with Kevin Garnett, having coached him in Boston when Thibodeau was associate head coach alongside Doc Rivers. The two won a championship together in 2008.
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. email@example.com