insider Jerry Zgoda
Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy hired Tom Thibodeau as an assistant in New York and Houston, has been friends with him ever since and interviewed for the same jobs Thibodeau took with the Timberwolves last spring. Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda asked the longtime ESPN analyst when he worked last week’s Wolves-New Orleans game to talk about the man he knows so well:
Q Do you two still talk often, now that he has a job again?
A Yeah, I think we’ve been able to pretty regularly — not every day.
Q How’s he holding up?
A Good, I think he likes his team. Disappointed with the results right now, but I think he likes his team.
Q How was he that season away, mellow and relaxed?
A You know, unfortunately, the media has tried to create a negative perception about who he is and what he stands for. I’ve never seen a guy take criticism for working hard like he does. When you work hard, now that means you don’t have perspective? That never made any sense to me. I think he liked his year off. It tells you a lot about how he perceived the Minnesota job because he could have gotten paid for another year and hung out.
Q The interest he, you and many other coaches expressed in the job changed Glen Taylor from wanting to sell a third of the team as part of a succession plan to being in with both feet now as owner.
A You don’t get enough money to own one of these teams if you haven’t had great success, but I’m sure losing as much as they’ve lost has worn on him. To not make the playoffs in 12 years, that’s hard. It’s hard on the fans. If you just came into the NBA the last decade, you don’t know what a great basketball market Minnesota was when the Timberwolves had that place rocking. It was great, but now I watch games and see a lot of [empty] seats.
Q They’re probably a bigger national story than locally because fans want to see it before they believe again.
A And I get that and it’s painful because you see how good they can be. But I love their team. Their young players — who everybody agrees are very talented — haven’t been able to translate their great talent into wins. But they’ve gotten up big against good teams, they can score and there has never been a young team that I know of that defends. That part takes time.
But I was thinking today: If there was no salary cap, what players wouldn’t you trade Karl-Anthony Towns for? Steph Curry? That’s a no. Is Kevin Durant a no? Is Anthony Davis a no, because of his durability? How many can you come up with? I mean, they have a future. There are a lot of young teams that all they are is young. That doesn’t mean they have a chance to be good. Minnesota has a chance to be really good, but there are moves that need to be made to shore up [their weaknesses].
Q Isn’t it a long wait for young bodies to mature?
A That’s why you want to make sure. You don’t know a player until you coach him. That’s why I think Tom and [GM Scott Layden’s] level of minor moves to start with last summer was smart. Don’t overcommit, because who knows? The year will tell you about what you need to do next.
Q When you say you love this team, you’re talking Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine?
A And I like [Gorgui] Dieng a lot.
Q Can you win if your point guard can’t score at the end of games with the ball in his hands?
A [an 11-second pause] Avery Johnson did it, but he had a shot and he was a very good finisher. It makes it hard. I love Ricky Rubio and I don’t know [Kris] Dunn well, but I like what I see. But it’s hard to withstand. What Minnesota is accomplishing offensively with what their point guards are shooting, it’s really an incredible feat so far.
Q Did you ever have a team with something like the Wolves have had with these third quarters?
A This is my pet peeve right here: So, all right, if Minnesota was able to be consistent throughout the game and duplicate what they’ve done in the first half, they would be a championship-caliber team, right? But they’re not. That’s the point. The teams that are consistent are the teams that win big, so I’m not surprised they’re inconsistent.
Q Do you get any late-night calls from Thibs after those games?
A [laughs] No, he doesn’t need me. He has got a great staff.
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Utah
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. N.Y.
Friday: 6:30 p.m. at New York
Saturday: 6 p.m. at Charlotte
All games on FSN
Player to watch: Kristaps Porzingis, New York
You get not one but two chances to see the 1A product to Karl-Anthony Towns’ 1 from the 2015 draft and it’s back-to-back — at Target Center Wednesday, at Madison Square Garden Friday — no less.
“Coaches look for trust. Sometimes you have to give it.”
— TNT analyst Kenny Smith, suggesting the Timberwolves give rookie Kris Dunn opportunity to prove himself at point guard.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: email@example.com, Blog: startribune.com/wolves