1. Thibs Canned: Today, the Wolves did the unexpected and fired Tim Thibodeau as coach and GM. The Wolves have not been great so far (18-21, 11th in the West) but they haven’t been much worse than reasonable expectations, which pegged them as a lower seeded playoff team. According to Adrian Wonjarowski of ESPN, the firing came because the team didn’t like how Thibodeau handled the Jimmy Butler affair and because Thibodeau had a bad relationship with CEO Ethan Casson, who had “concerns on the business side of the Timberwolves about renewing season tickets and sponsorships without a change in basketball operations.”
Was this firing objectively justified? Let’s breakdown Thibodeau’s pluses and minuses:
Thibs coached pretty well: After a meh first season in 2016-17, Thibodeau led the team to a 47-35 record, the best Wolves season since the 2003-04 monster run with peak Kevin Garnett. Minny was not great this season but the team had been playing at or around the 2017-18 level since the Jimmy Butler trade. The weird aspect of Thibs’ time in Minny was the defense. Thibodeau was known as a defensive coach but the team has rated out poorly in that category the last two seasons (27th last year).
Developing the young guys: Thibodeau’s biggest rap in Chicago was that he plays his favorite vets heavy minutes and doesn’t develop many young guys. This isn’t totally wrong but Karl-Anthony Towns has been quite good with Thibodeau. Andrew Wiggins has not really developed but that seems to be more a result of the fact that Wiggins is not a great player than because of anything Thibodeau has done.
The Butler trade: There is no question that Thibodeau screwed this up. The Wolves should’ve had avoided that circus by trading Butler before the season. Instead, Butler’s unhappiness hurt the team, the 4-9 start with Butler in limbo might ultimately cost the team a playoff spot. Moreover, the trade return for Butler was tepid anyway and not worth the gamble of coming into the season with this problem. Thibodeau should’ve known that this was not a tenable solution and cut bait in the summer.
Thibs as GM: The Wolves gave Thibodeau full control of the organization and his personality (intense and not super ebullient) and coaching pedigree (he came up as an assistant and did not do much on the personnel side) did not suggest that he was suited for the dual role. As a GM, he had the following big misses:
-Thibs’ first move was to draft Kris Dunn fifth overall. This wasn’t the worst pick but Jamal Murray was taken two picks later at the same position and has been a bit better so far. Dunn terrible as a rookie for the Wolves (which is not to Thibs’ credit) but has improved to decent the last two years in Chicago.
-The trade to get Butler looked pretty good then but looks bad now. In essence, Thibodeau traded Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen to get one season of Butler and Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Thibodeau gambled his tenure that Butler would want to stay and, instead, Butler had one nice season and left the Wolves with a few decent vets, instead of Markkanen and Dunn (the Wolves would’ve let LaVine go in free agency anyway).
-Thibodeau’s desire to compete immediately was belied by trading Ricky Rubio before last season for a late first-rounder (ended up being Josh Okogie, who hasn’t done much yet but is still young). Thibs went with Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose instead at the point. Rubio is no star but is a much better defender than Teague and Rose and would probably have fit better with the team the last two seasons. This isn’t a major mistake like the Butler issues but another smaller mistake around the margins.
Overall, Thibodeau’s time in Minnesota has been a net positive on the court. He has been a below average GM. His total record would probably have not been a basis for a firing for most teams. Thibodeau’s personality, however, really must not have meshed with ownership. This is the same team that let Kurt Rambis coach two full seasons with a 32-132 record. To cut bait early on a decent team, something bad was going on. Between Thibodeau’s failure to gel with ownership and his heavy reliance on Butler, he cost himself his job early.
Thibodeau is still a good enough coach to get another job as a coach only but it will have to be a veteran team with an established management. No such team is evident at this point with the possible exception of the Wizards. As for Minnesota, it is not clear where they go next. There are rumors of Fred Hoiberg, who did decently in a tough situation in Chicago.
2. The Original Coffee Guy: Baxter Holmes just wrote an interesting feature On ESPN regarding how many NBA players rely on strong coffee for energy on the court. The article credits the Lakers’ strength coach Tom Di Francesco for turning on some players to quality coffee before games, including Chris Kaman, who later brought the idea to the Blazers. Kaman is retired but Damian Lillard and many of the other Blazers are hooked on this strong coffee.
The use of coffee in the NBA, however, is far from new. My favorite old coffee addict story involves Darrell Armstrong. Armstrong was an undersized and energetic point guard for Orlando in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After knocking around the minor leagues, Armstrong finally stuck with Orlando when he was already in his late 20s. In April 1999, Armstrong told L.C. Johnson of the Orlando Sentinel the origins of the coffee methodology: “It started when we were playing on the West Coast. The game would start at 10:30 (EST), and I could feel my body starting to get tired because that’s normally the time when our games would be over. Chuck Daly [Magic coach from 1996 to 1998] suggested that I start drinking a cup of coffee to get a little caffeine in my body.”
Armstrong ended up playing well that game and then began drinking coffee and loading up with caffeine. Johnson wrote that Armstrong: “somehow keeps his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame lean despite a steady diet of Hershey’s Kisses – two at halftime of every game – and Barnie’s coffee equipped with, get this, seven lumps of sugar.” Yuck.
Armstrong had a pretty good career but I do recall hearing that he gave up the coffee/sugar habit at some point due because the caffeine was adversely affecting him (I can’t find a source to back this up anywhere though). In that same vein, take a more recent example of Matthew Dellavedova. Dellie gave up a coffee habit during the 2015 NBA Finals because it caused him to be dehydrated. He told Dave McMenamin that “[t]here will be no coffee tonight [for Game 4 of the Finals]. It’s not a good thing, probably, for your hydration.” Dellie then gave some advice that the Blazers and Armstrong might consider: “I think having 20,000 screaming fans is probably a little bit stronger than a cup of coffee.”