CHICAGO – Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau revisited his Chicago Bulls’ past during Tuesday’s first trip back to play his former team by looking toward his new team’s future.
Only four Bulls players — most notably veterans Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson — remain from when Thibodeau last coached the team only 19 months ago.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how quickly things do change,” Thibodeau said. “That’s sort of the nature of this league. Nothing lasts forever and then you have to move on to the next challenge, which I am. But it’s always good to come back here.”
And what a challenge it is with a young Wolves team that was 6-18 in its first 24 games. Thibodeau’s first Bulls team went 62-20 during the 2010-11 season.
Thibodeau said he can see a future built around young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
“I love the group that I have,” he said. “We have three guys who are 21 years old averaging 20 points a game in the NBA. It’s unusual when you’re best players are like that at that age. They’re driven, they’re hard-working. I think we’ll get better as we go along — Kris Dunn is starting to come on, but we have a lot of work to do. I knew that going in.
“That’s what excites me about this challenge: To build every day, to get better and improve. Hopefully, we can do that … We know we have to improve dramatically at the defensive end. That’s what you have to do to win in this league.”
Enigmatic Bulls starting point guard Rajon Rondo missed Tuesday’s game after injuring an ankle in what coach Fred Hoiberg called a “freak play” near the end of Monday’s practice. Jerian Grant started at the point Tuesday while Bulls point guard Michael Carter-Williams remains out because of a sprained wrist.
Rondo’s absence came eight days after he served a one-game team suspension for throwing a towel in associate head coach Jim Boylen’s face.
“I’ll say this about Rondo: The good far outweighs the bad,” said Thibodeau, who coached him for three seasons in Boston. “The plays that he can make, his vision and decision-making are really special. You have to take all of it with every player. So no one’s perfect. I saw he apologized. That happens in the course of a season.”
• Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica returned after missing consecutive games because of a sore right ankle.
• The Bulls coveted Dunn in last summer’s draft and discussed a trade with Boston for the third overall pick that never occurred. The Wolves chose Dunn with the fifth pick instead.
• Thibodeau addressed a contentious breakup with Bulls General Manager Gar Forman and John Paxson, vice president of basketball operations, by saying, “I don’t have a problem with those guys. I really don’t. They have a job to do. I had a job to do. Unfortunately, we had some injuries along the way.”
• Wolves backup center Cole Aldrich nearly played in Chicago for Thibodeau when he was a free agent in July 2014, but he signed with New York instead. “But I really liked Thibs,” Aldrich said. “It was a tough decision.”