Talk to people who have worked with him, and they’ll tell you Tom Thibodeau and the 2016-17 Timberwolves are an ideal match: a young talented roster coupled with a detail-oriented, tough coach.
“This is a good fit,” said Jeff Van Gundy, who had Thibodeau as an assistant in New York and Houston. “You have a proven coach with young players who have yet to prove they can have team success yet. But they have talent. And they’re open to coaching.”
If there has been one reservation about Thibodeau, it is how his style would play to young players. Not to worry, said Charlotte coach Steve Clifford.
“Listen, I was an assistant with him in two cities,” Clifford said. “For eight or nine years. He can communicate with players as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. Or better. The only guys who won’t like playing for him are guys who don’t want to work towards winning.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t predict a playoff berth — “I’m not a predictor,” he said. But having worked with Thibodeau on the U.S. Olympic team, Coach K knows one thing: Thibodeau was good in Chicago. And he’s an even better coach now, having spent his year off studying the game.
“Even though he didn’t coach last year, he’s better. If he didn’t do all that work last year, he shouldn’t be the coach of the Timberwolves. He prepared the right way, he wanted to be worthy of that opportunity. And he is.”
Doc Rivers, who had Thibodeau on his staff in Boston — they won a title together — said he is in the perfect spot.
“He couldn’t have picked a better place,” Rivers said. “Very smart decision. They’re going to be great.”
But how quickly? Will this season’s team be in the Western Conference playoffs?
Krzyzewski wouldn’t say for sure. “So much is predicated on [staying] healthy,” he said. “My wish to him is that nobody gets hurt.”
Van Gundy, though, said he thought the Wolves’ 12-year playoff drought would end next spring.
“I do,” he said. “Listen, it’s not going to be easy. There will be bumps in the road, injuries always play a factor. But I think they can make it. I think they’ll be vastly improved this year. So, yeah, I think they’ll make it.”