Anyone who has watched or heard Tom Thibodeau stalk an NBA sideline can reasonably surmise that he’s not a man blessed with an abundance of patience.
He makes every possession feel like life or death.
Thibs has preached “process” since arriving in Minnesota while insisting that development of players requires step-by-step diligence. Then his first Timberwolves team won 31 games and played defense as if it were an inconvenience.
One season of that nonsense was enough for Thibodeau.
The Wolves boss put his cards on the table the past week, reshaping the roster in his vision and thus accelerating the organization’s timeline for building a winner.
Thibodeau didn’t like his point guard, the age of his team or its lack of toughness and maturity to win close games in the fourth quarter. So he changed the narrative.
The Wolves no longer should be portrayed as a project with a core of talented youngsters clinging to a promising future. Thibodeau added a top-15 player in Jimmy Butler and a former All-Star point guard in Jeff Teague and reportedly is targeting four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap or possibly other established veterans.
So long, Timberpups.
Thibodeau’s personnel decisions make it clear that he wasn’t content to sit around and hope things will be better in four years once his young players are all grown up. Or wait for Ricky Rubio to become a better shooter, if that ever happens.
From the outside, swapping Rubio for Teague looks like an offsetting move. Rubio is a superior defender and passer; Teague is a better shooter with more ability to play off the ball. Teague is also older and more expensive but owns a better résumé.
Hardly a no-brainer either way. Except Rubio conversations allow no common ground, apparently.
He leaves as one of the most polarizing Twin Cities athletes in recent memory. His tenure was a strange case study, a player simultaneously loved and ridiculed by fans of the same team. Too often he was either overvalued or undervalued in analyzing his talent.
Blaming Rubio as the primary culprit in the Wolves’ lack of postseason appearances is beyond ludicrous. So are hysterical cries suggesting Thibodeau made a blunder for the ages by trading him.
Thibodeau has a specific idea of what he wants from his point guard and Rubio didn’t fit it. That might disappoint a segment of fans, but Wolves owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, gave Thibodeau a five-year, $40 million contract with authority to construct the roster in his vision. Rubio was never in his long-term plans.
Thibodeau’s neck is on the line with this philosophical shift. He exchanged youngsters Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for an established All-Star in Butler and jettisoned a fan favorite point guard for one who shoots better.
If those moves fail to produce desired results, Thibodeau will bear ultimate responsibility. But he’s pushing his chips all in, and that has made the rest of the league take notice for once.
An unapologetic pursuit of super teams has consumed the NBA. One star per team is not enough. Two is OK, three is preferable, four makes you the Golden State Warriors.
Everybody covets a hoops Rat Pack.
“This is what dynasties are made of,” Karl-Anthony Towns said after Butler’s introductory news conference.
Big KAT was referring to his own team, which would’ve been a real knee-slapper two weeks ago. Now? Dynasty talk is premature, but an organization that has carried a “kick-me” sign on its back for so long suddenly has grand ambition.
Unless or until the Warriors become old, bored, injured or cash-strapped, the rest of the league is second fiddle. That collection of stars proved in going 16-1 in the postseason that they reside in a category by themselves at present.
Within that context, the Wolves’ new blueprint still makes sense.
Butler turns 28 in September, just entering his prime. Towns is 21 years old. Andrew Wiggins is 22.
The window for that trio to win should be wide.
“I think what we have here is very attractive to other players,” Thibodeau said.
The picture looks different, for sure. The roster shakeup brings more pressure to win immediately. It’s not just about the future anymore.