You can bet it was tough for Scott Layden when the Timberwolves general manager had to tell coach Tom Thibodeau that he was being fired on Sunday night.
The Wolves had just beaten the Los Angeles Lakers and reached the halfway point of the season when the shocking news came down.
“Sometimes decisions are made, the timing is not always perfect,” Layden said. “We try to do things in a respectful, professional manner. We obviously have the utmost respect for Coach Thibs, and hopefully we handled things the best we could.
“We've had a very long relationship and have known Tom for a long time. And have nothing but the ultimate respect for him and his work.”
Layden came to Minnesota at the same time Thibodeau was named President of Basketball Operations and head coach, in April of 2016. Thibodeau had all the power over the basketball side, but when owner Glen Taylor decided to make a change Sunday, Layden’s role changed dramatically.
Now he will call the shots, with 32-year-old Ryan Saunders taking over as head coach.
I believe Thibodeau was a very good basketball coach, but the Jimmy Butler situation did not make him look good and with the team struggling to play .500 basketball and attendance among the worst in the NBA, Taylor had to make the change.
“Coach Thibs is an excellent coach,” Layden said. “He's someone that is unbelievably committed. He's an unbelievable hard worker. I just can't thank him enough for helping our organization.”
It’s no secret that I am very close to the Saunders family. I knew the late Flip Saunders from the time he played for the Gophers in the 1970s, and I’ve known Ryan since he was a little kid. Putting all that aside, I believe Ryan Saunders will relate better to the younger players and, believe me, there’s no question he is a very capable coach. This stage will not be too big for him.
“It's in his DNA,” Layden said. “It's something that certainly that he's planned for his whole life. I look forward to his success and how he does. One of the things is that we know Ryan is a high character guy and a hard worker. Someone that is going to have the best interests of the Minnesota Timberwolves in his heart.”
Everyone knows the Timberwolves have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot. The challenge now for Saunders and Layden is making sure the players live up to their potential and get back in the playoff race.