Unsurprisingly, Tom Thibodeau didn’t take any opportunity this weekend to make any veiled swings at his former employer.
Thibodeau, who’s in his first season as the New York Knicks’ head coach and facing the Timberwolves for the first time Sunday since he was fired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in January 2019, said there are “a lot of good people” in Minnesota.
“I enjoyed my time there. It was a good experience, I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish, but then it’s time to move on,” Thibodeau said, before unleashing a big grin. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of former teams for me.”
Thibodeau was asked about why those Timberwolves teams were forced to rely on offensive prowess. The Knicks, like Thibodeau’s old Bulls teams, have sported a strong defense that wasn’t present in Minnesota.
“Part of it, you look at your team and what you feel the strengths and weaknesses are, and you try to cover up whatever weaknesses you have,” Thibodeau said. “I was proud of where we were. We were a terrific offensive team, and many people didn’t think we would be that, and we were a top-five team in offense, and I think in the second year, we finished with the second-best (conference) record in the West, so I was very proud of that accomplishment, as well.”
Thibodeau noted there were some things they wanted to do better, but he called the second year, in which the Wolves snapped their long playoff drought, “very good,” and even the third year, in which Thibodeau and Co. finally traded a disgruntled Jimmy Butler 13 games into the season, “I thought we had a really good chance.”
“Even after the trade with Jimmy, that team was playing well,” Thibodeau said.
The receipts check out on that. Minnesota was 19-21 at the time of Thibodeau’s firing, including 15-12 after the Butler trade.
SAUNDERS ON THIBODEAU
Ryan Saunders is the man who replaced Thibodeau as the Wolves’ coach, first on an interim basis, then permanently. He previously got to know Thibodeau well while working on the coach’s staff as a Wolves assistant.
Saunders said he and Thibodeau were texting recently, and Saunders shared a photo of his young son getting ready to shoot a basketball.
“We had a good laugh over that,” Saunders said.
Saunders said Thibodeau has “helped me a lot in my career.”
“He taught me a lot about professionalism, he taught me a lot about approach,” Saunders said. “He was … an even bigger part of my life during tough times, as my dad had passed. That’s the non-basketball. And he’s a basketball lifer, so I have a ton of respect for him, and a ton of admiration for the things he has been able to do. He has that team playing well.”
Thibodeau’s staff in New York is filled with ex-Wolves assistants whom Saunders worked with. Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, whom Saunders coached and has raved about the professionalism of, are on the roster.
But once you get into the game, Saunders said, “you really just focus on the task at hand.”
“I know Coach Thibs would say the same thing. That was something I really learned from him,” he said. “I learned a number of things from him, in my time working for him. One of those was just the approach and daily work that goes into this game we all love here. … I know he’s a great competitor, so you just compartmentalize and focus on the team you have here.”
THIBS ON WOLVES
Thibodeau spoke Sunday about the adversity Karl-Anthony Towns has faced this past year, losing his mom and other family members to COVID-19.
“Obviously, you care about him as a person first, and his family — his dad, his sister and all the things he has gone through,” Thibodeau said. “In terms of basketball, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best players in the league. It’s been a little unfortunate in terms of his (wrist) injuries over the last couple years, but he’s been a terrific talent.”
Thibodeau said Anthony Edwards’ athleticism is “special.”
“They’re a very talented team, and obviously, they’ve gone through some stuff with injuries that has been unfortunate for them. But when you look at the way (Malik) Beasley has played, Edwards, and of course, Karl, he’s as good as it gets offensively. That team can put a lot of points on the board,” Thibodeau said. “(Ricky) Rubio is a real good veteran, can run a team. They’ve got a lot of pieces, and they’ve got Karl back, and it makes them different.”