For fourteen teams, the season is over. For sixteen, the playoffs are beginning. But for all 30 front offices, their season never stops. Regardless as to whether their team is competing on the court or not, behind the scenes, each franchise is preparing their summer plans to re-tool ready for next year’s marathon.
Several will be considering organisational changes, particularly at head coach, in their bid for success. And there are a number of big name coaches out there right now, keen for their next stint wielding a clipboard. One man, though, in spite of his small physical stature, stands head and shoulders above his coaching brethren. Tom Thibodeau.
The 58-year-old, in five seasons with the Bulls, amassed a 394-255 record and his winning percentage of .647 is good enough for 16th on the all-time list. In his absence, the Bulls have squandered a season with a huge amount of promise. All-Star guard, Jimmy Butler, was not happy with the change in culture brought about by coach’s departure.
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Saying to ESPN: “We probably have to be coached a lot harder at times” then adding “when guys aren't doing what they're supposed to do, you got to get on guys”. With Thibodeau’s (sometimes maniacal) demand for effort and excellence such quips from players would never be heard, let alone tolerated, under his stewardship.
Joakim Noah, the 2013-2014 Defensive Player of the Year under Thibs’ guidance, also indirectly addressed the loss of his former coach. Whilst talking to Zach Lowe, the center explained “Our identity has always been: You come to Chicago, you're in for a war. It's not like that right now”, then admitting “if you're coasting, playing this low-energy game, I'm not sure we can win like that”.
The Bulls struggles throughout this season, which ultimately led to them missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years, has seen Thibs’ coaching stock rise to an all-time high. Certainly Thibs is not flawless. The heavy minutes his stars log has given rise to concerns that he increases the risks of injury to his players. But this coach wins and NBA front offices know it.
Thibodeau will likely be inundated with requests from potential suitors this summer with the Bucks, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Nets, Raptors, Rockets, Suns, Timberwolves and Wizards either openly or rumoured to be (depending if they get past the first round or not (Toronto)) considering a new coach to run their franchise.
He wants to be a part of it...
Thibs’ has already admitted that coaching the Knicks is his dream job. But let’s get realistic, is it really? This is far from the organisation he was the assistant coach for between 1996 and 2003. Owner, James Dolan is all too often featuring in stories for the wrong reasons and coaching legend, Phil Jackson appears to have struggled in his transition into the role of GM. Reports also give the impression that Jackson already has one foot out the door in a potential return to Lakers.
With so much uncertainty, is this really the place for Thibs to get back on the side-lines? And that’s before we even mention the roster which, realistically, has only one long-term piece to build around in Porzingis.
Return of the pack
The team where Thibodeau could have the most impact and who are positioned best for future success are the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves already have Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine to build around. Quick, athletic players who could become the face of the next great defensive team if engaged correctly.
Thibs was instrumental in revolutionising NBA defense as an assistant with the championship winning Celtics. It’s this end of the floor where he hangs his hat – would you expect anything less from a man who demands so much from his team. The Wolves certainly have room to improve on this end of the floor and, even after their strong finish to the year, had the third worst defensive rating in the league.
The ceiling for this team is very high and Thibs would be the ideal coach to transition these guys from fun-loving young up-starts (which isn’t entirely a bad thing) into serious threats on both ends of the floor. Sure the turnaround wouldn’t be immediate, but the building blocks the Wolves already have in place are unrivalled across the league. Within five years, this team should be a powerhouse. Maybe quicker under Thibs' guidance.
Minnesota wouldn’t be a random destination either – the Wolves inaugural season in 1989 featured a young Thibs in his first assistant role. Imagine, a member of the original incarnation of the franchise returning close to thirty years later, coming full circle, elevating the team back to a level they have only momentarily flirted before and finally, finally, delivering a title.