Is Tom Thibodeau a good basketball coach?
Seems like the jury's still out, which is sort of crazy, given how many years he's been given at the helm of NBA teams. His Chicago Bulls often stormed through the regular season and won playoff series... then ground to a halt or ran out of gas when the stakes were raised. (Battling LeBron didn't help.)
His 2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves made the postseason, the franchise's first appearance in a long, long time. That's nice. That they snuck in the backdoor, arranging a four-and-out sweep by the Houston Rockets, could either be taken as a hopeful sign of good years to come, or a disappointing sign of another promising year gone to waste.
But that question is now moot. Thibodeau's out on his ass, as of last night, fired after (get this) a huge win against the LeBron-less Los Angeles Lakers. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins both played well, and, with a 14-6 home record, Minnesota's turning into a team you don't want to visit on an off night. (A 5-16 road record means you wouldn't mind having them over and eating them for dinner, as five teams did on a recent West Coast road trip.)
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has been heavily involved in this team since he bought it in 1994, pledging to keep the franchise in town always and forever. And he's kept up his end of that bargain: The Timberwolves still play in downtown Minneapolis, and these days are getting training and medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic Square across the street.
Glen Taylor's commitment to this city and state is not in question. Taylor's purchase of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (which later bought a second-rate alternative weekly called City Pages) is further proof he cares.
Here's what is in question: Is Glen Taylor any good at owning a men's basketball team?
The gender distinction's important. On the one hand, Glen's Minnesota Lynx ownership has produced a dynasty, one starring a well-liked woman who has literally been compared to the Greek goddess of victory. (It was City Pages that made the comparison, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hold up.) The Lynx are great, and pretty much always have been.
The Timberwolves are a messy disappointment, and pretty much always have been. Do you remember the name Ndudi Ebi? There's a reason you probably don't. He wasn't very good at basketball. Randy Foye you might recall, but perhaps mostly for the interesting fact his internal organs were switched around inside, a rare condition. The fact his stint at point guard here produced very little is, for this franchise, not a rare condition.
More often than not, Minnesota's looked good on paper, and like crap on the court. The team's personnel decisions, from the Kevin Garnett-for-Al Jefferson-and-everyone-else trade, to not drafting a skinny little stud named Stephen Curry, to whatever the hell that Joe Smith contract mess was, to employing Jimmy Butler well past the point it was healthy for anyone involved... the list of botched moves and ugly fallouts goes on and on.
General managers and coaches have come and gone. (And come and gone.) The only ones with any real success were Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale; Saunders tragically died way ahead of his time, and McHale moved on to coaching an exciting Houston Rockets team. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, roiled with turmoil: lineup changes, coaching shuffles, players asking out or squabbling.
You can blame Jimmy Butler for this year's drama if you want. But any franchise that once paired Kevin "I sometimes punch teammates" Garnett with Ricky "I once shot at my own basket to give myself an extra rebound" Davis clearly has some ... issues with how it manages things.
The Star Tribune's Jim Souhan wasn't in a mood to question Glen Taylor after last night's ousting of Thibodeau. Souhan dares us to "imagine" the level of "disillusionment" Taylor must feel about Thibodeau.
And if Glen Taylor's disillusioned... just "imagine" how disillusioned are with Taylor's ownership era of this team. High hopes dashed, great talents swapped, mistakes made, reputations ruined. There's been some bad luck along the way. But if your every waking year is colored by bad luck... you'd have to wonder if you're doing something wrong.
Chris Mannix at Sports Illustrated had some choice words for Taylor, in light of this coaching change.
"Oh," Mannix writes, "and did you hear why Thibodeau was fired now? Fan apathy, specifically when it came to season ticket renewals, was reportedly a factor, as was Thibodeau’s strained relationship with the business side of the Timberwolves' operations. Putting aside the fact that no one should be remotely surprised that Thibodeau—who was barely on speaking terms with Bulls brass toward the end of his run in Chicago—doesn’t play well with others, imagine being a Wolves fan knowing the criteria for your coach is engaging more with the public."
You can't fire an owner. That's not how capitalism works. All you can do is request they manage things differently. Or manage things less. Or more, if that's what's necessary, but in this case there's a long track record, and it's... not good. Results have not been mixed. They've been bad.
The funny thing is, this city already has couple good basketball coaches in it. One's Ryan Saunders, son of the late Flip, who's said to be very impressive at age 32, and can probably connect with a team of young men more than Thibodeau could.
Another is Cheryl Reeve, mastermind of the Lynx dynasty, who's spoken and written eloquently about sexism in sports... and about wanting to coach in the NBA someday. It'd be a groundbreaking move for an owner to shift a female employee of a successful women's team to take over at a disappointing men's team.
In Ryan Saunders and Cheryl Reeve, Glen Taylor's already got one promising young coach and a proven basketball genius. It's not an easy choice between the two of them, though Reeve's already got some championship rings. Anyway, both seem like swell choices.
And if it's not them, we'd say Taylor could try begging Kevin Garnett to come back and whip this team into shape, maybe even as a player-coach, Bill Russell style. But Garnett doesn't want to coach a basketball team. He wants to own one. This one, to be more specific. Maybe he should.
Anyway, all of this is to say: We expect to learn any day now that the Timberwolves have hired Fred Hoiberg as head coach. Wish him luck, he'll need it.