NEW YORK – From a night at the movies and a University of Louisville football game to a Sunday matinee on Broadway, Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau has mapped his team’s way forward, intending to build a team away from the court as well as on it.
An assistant coach with Boston nine years ago, he attributes a preseason trip to Rome and nightly team functions there for helping form a team that won an NBA title in its first season together.
So far with his new team, Thibodeau has organized team dinners and nights and days out — including one to Sunday’s Broadway musical “Hamilton,” still the hottest ticket in town.
@HamiltonMusical was amazing! Definitely a Must See!— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) November 6, 2016
“We’ve done a bunch of stuff like that,” Thibodeau said. “For us, it’s good, particularly this time of year, just spending time together. When you put a new team together, the more team-building you can do, the better. It’s something that we’re trying to do.”
Make no mistake, Thibodeau knows the way back to the playoffs after 12 seasons away and out of a 1-4 season start. That will come on the court when the Wolves defend better, move the ball better and find a solution to third-quarter collapses that he one night called an “abomination.”
It also might come more easily when starting point guard Ricky Rubio returns from a sprained elbow suffered in the season’s second game. On Monday, Thibodeau said Rubio is making “steady progress” while he rehabilitates back in Minnesota and said Rubio’s return date will be better known when he is examined again after the team returns from Wednesday’s game at Orlando.
He noted his team did its work first with a Sunday morning film session before players and coaches went to Sunday brunch and the Broadway show.
“The big thing for us is to understand what we have to do each and every day, what corrections we have to make and what goes into winning,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes things go your way. Sometimes they don’t. The important thing is to be consistent in your approach. You need maximum effort, maximum concentration and then we have to build a discipline we can count on.”
The Wolves moved forward Monday with a 2½-hour practice in Manhattan, preparing for a Tuesday game at Brooklyn by focusing on ball movement and organizing their defense better.
“You deal with everything during the course of an NBA season,” Thibodeau said. “Being mentally tough and getting through things, that’s all part of this. When you face some adversity, you have to be strong mentally, physically and emotionally.”
He said he believes players who know each other and like each other’s company help in getting through that long NBA season, including particularly difficult stretches that the Wolves currently are in.
“It gets the team closer,” veteran guard John Lucas III said about Sunday’s excursion. “We’re going to be around each other more than we’re going to be around our own families the next few months. That’s what builds unity. That’s what builds family and that’s what builds commitment to each other. It shows nobody is better than each other. Those things are optional. It’s not like they’re mandatory, but everybody shows up. That’s the mind-set we’re trying to establish here.”
This is not the start Thibodeau or any of his players envisioned as little as two weeks ago. They have held big, early leads in three of their four losses, but have kicked away advantages of 15, 17 and 18 in each of them.
“We’re not stressing about that,” guard Zach LaVine said. “We have to win games and close out games, but we know we’re good enough because of the way we have played in those quarters. We’ve been blowing teams out and looking like a great team and just had a bad run that ended the game for us. We know what we have to do.”
Their road back starts in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
“We’re not in a funk, we’re not down,” Lucas said. “It’s just the little bitty things that are costing us. It’s taking every possession as the last. That comes with maturity and knowing each other. Once we do that, we’re going to be fine. We’re not in a panic. Coach is not in a panic. But we are tired of losing. I can say that much.”