KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For years they coached against each other. Twice, they met in the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs. So Erik Spoelstra knows what the league is gaining with Tom Thibodeau’s return.
And he’s glad to see it.
“I am, I am,’’ said Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach. The Timberwolves opened their preseason with a game against the Heat at the Sprint Center here Saturday. For Thibodeau — out of coaching last season — it was the first time he roamed the sidelines as a head coach since May 14, 2015, when his Bulls were eliminated by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“He’s too good a coach not to be in this league,” Spoelstra said. “He did a tremendous job with the Chicago Bulls, and things happen that you can’t control. That’s why I’m happy for him, that he’s able to get back into this. And it’s an exciting group to build around.’’
The Bulls and Heat met in the playoffs twice in Thibodeau’s five seasons in Chicago. The Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, beat the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in 2011 and in the conference semifinals in 2013.
Given the promising roster and Thibodeau’s reputation, Spoelstra said Wolves fans can expect a “tough, hard-nosed, disciplined team.’’
Spoelstra said he’s not only glad Thibodeau is back in the league, but also he’s happy where he landed. Namely, it’s not in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m glad he’s out West,’’ he said.
Home sweet home
The Wolves have three former Kansas Jayhawks on their roster in Andrew Wiggins, Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush. The KU campus is in Lawrence, about 40 miles from Kansas City.
Rush and Aldrich were on the 2008 Kansas NCAA title team, and Rush is a Kansas City native.
“We played a nonconference game here every year,” said Aldrich of the Sprint Center. “And then we started to play the Big 12 tournament here. So I’ve played 10, 11 games here. This is nothing new for me.’’
Rush and Aldrich played multiple seasons with the Jayhawks, so their connection is deeper.
Especially Rush, who was able to see his mom and grandmother Friday night, then have dinner with a few former teammates.
“I always love coming back here,” said Rush, who secured a suite at the game for family and friends.
With so many players on the roster, Thibodeau wasn’t able to play everyone Saturday. Those who didn’t see action should play Monday at Charlotte.