Does he have hobbies? Does he need to decompress? Didn’t seem like it in Las Vegas last week. Tom Thibodeau was in his element — available, gregarious, surrounded by people who care about basketball as much as he does.
It’s been an eventful summer already for the Timberwolves’ president and coach, who moved to surround his two young stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, with credible veteran starpower — chief among which is Jimmy Butler, Thibs’ former Bulls player and three-time All-Star.
Minnesota sent Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 Draft (Lauri Markkanen) to Chicago for Butler, who’ll provide the young Wolves some defensive bite and leadership that they’ve lacked. Thibodeau also traded longtime fan favorite Ricky Rubio to Utah, and signed free agent point guard Jeff Teague to a three-year, $57 million deal to replace him. He also brought in another ex-Bull, Taj Gibson, and will reportedly soon sign ex-Clippers guard and three-time Kia Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. The new crew has, first and foremost, the task of ending the Wolves’ postseason drought, at 13 seasons and running — the longest current streak in the league.
Me: When you approached the offseason, what were your priorities?
Tom Thibodeau: When the season ended, obviously, the first thing is to get the guys that you have under contract and are on your team, get their offseason program going. And then we knew we had a number of needs, so you start preparing for the Draft. And as we were preparing for the Draft, we realized how deep a Draft it was going to be. As we got closer to Draft day, we were getting a lot of calls about the seventh pick. And once that happened, we realized we might have an opportunity to trade for an elite player. We started to look at some guys that fell into that category. When Jimmy became available, that was something we had great interest, and we were able to work out the deal.
Me: When the terms of the deal were finally agreed upon, were you surprised you were able to pull it off?
TT: I think as you’re approaching Draft day, you’re thinking about all of the possibilities, and you know that’s one way you can improve your club. And so we looked at the possibilities of moving up in the Draft, and also moving back. We thought we might be able to add another veteran player. But once we realized we might be able to get Jimmy, we wanted to pursue that. It wasn’t an easy decision, because we had to give up a couple of good players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. But it’s rare that you’re able to get an elite player, a top 10 player going into his prime. And getting the 16th pick was very important to us as well, and we were able to get Justin Patton with that pick. We think he’s a great fit for us also. And of course, we knew we had the money for free agency.
Me: How much did Chicago fight you for that 16th pick?
TT: Well, we probably wouldn’t have done the deal if that didn’t happen. But I think it was a good deal for both teams. Our windows matched up. Chicago had a great run for a long time, and then they decided they were re-setting. We wanted more veteran experience. We have Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, 21 and 22 years old, and I think what they’re doing is terrific. But (we needed) someone with a little more experience. Where Jimmy is in his career, I think he can share some of the things he’s going through with Karl and Andrew, what they’re going through now. And we had 22 games in which we had double-digit leads late in the game. and ended up losing. And Jimmy is, I think, one of the best closers in the game. I think that helps us. And of course adding Jeff Teague, who was an All-Star two years ago and on a team that had the best record in the league, we think that’s a big plus as well.
Me: With all the point guards that were available this summer, what sold you on Teague?
TT: Well, we felt there were a number of really good point guards available in free agency, so we knew that they had to have interest in us. I think once we had Jimmy, we had more guys that became interested in us. And we had to see if we could work out a financial package. Jeff made the commitment right away. That was really appealing to us. And the fact that he’s won every year he’s been in the league. And coaching against him, I realized how hard he was to contain in the high pick and roll (in Atlanta) with Al Horford. And with Karl and Wigg in the side pick and roll, I think he’s great at it. I thought he’d be a great fit for us.
Once we got Jimmy, and when free agency came, we had a lot of money to spend. We wanted to spend it wisely. And I felt that we did. But we just wanted to improve the team, and there’s steps you have to take along the way.
Minnesota Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau
Me: Why Jamal?
TT: The explosive scoring off the bench, and again, another veteran. He was Sixth Man of the Year two years ago; he’s done it three times since 2010. And again, coaching against him and seeing how explosive he is, and having another player that could fit with Jimmy and Wigg, I thought that was important.
KAT Season Recap:
✅ 2,000+ points
✅ 1,000+ boards
✅ 100+ treys
✅ Become the FIRST @NBA player to notch all 3 milestones in a single-season pic.twitter.com/hQMNJBcIPi
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) April 17, 2017
Me: You could have stayed pat and just continued to develop your young players. Golden State’s really hard to beat, all that. So why commit resources?
TT: I think the big thing is you look at your team, and you always think about ways that you can improve. I think the fact that Karl improved so much last year, as did Andrew and Zach also, I think that makes it attractive to people. Once we got Jimmy, and when free agency came, we had a lot of money to spend. We wanted to spend it wisely. And I felt that we did. But we just wanted to improve the team, and there’s steps you have to take along the way. We understand that there’s a lot of work that has to be done, but we want to improve every day.
Me: Did you have any resistance from players or agents when you got into free agency? Everyone knows you run a tight ship and you have hard practices. Was there any pushback on that?
TT: No. Actually, the players, they want to come to us. Obviously, the financial part’s important. But then, I think they look at the roster. Who am I going to be playing with, and how can I fit in? I think we’re very, very attractive. When Jimmy comes into play, the fact that he’s been on so many All-Star teams, been an Olympian, been on Team USA, they all have relationships with each other. I think that’s a big part of what’s going on in our league. I think the landscape has changed in some ways. Most players, they want to be coached, they want discipline, and they want an environment in which they can play their best.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Kyrie. Not even close. – AB https://t.co/8cEKwtSu6O
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) July 13, 2017
— Avery Bradley, now with Detroit, answering a fan’s question on who the toughest guy in the league for him to guard is, on the Pistons’ Twitter handle (@DetroitPistons), Thursday, 4:40 pm.
THEY SAID IT
“Yes, it’s not what you want to hear as commissioner. I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about. I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words.”
— NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, at his news conference following last week’s Board of Governors meeting, on Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s acknowledgement that his team tanked after being eliminated from playoff contention, by playing its young players more down the stretch, in hopes of improving its Draft position.
“I always say I’m the most competitive person I know. Some people might say that’s a good thing. Some might say it’s a bad thing. But I’m ultra-competitive. There’s no reason to play unless you’re playing to win. Ricky Bobby said it best: If you’re not first, you’re last.”
— Chris Paul, during his introductory press conference last week in Houston.
“And our (U.S. women’s) gymnastics team was so dominant (at the 2012 Olympics) that Kevin Durant told me he wants to play for them next year.”
— Peyton Manning, during last week’s ESPY Awards monologue, with a joke that Durant reportedly was in on, playing the wrestling heel to a T.
Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here andfollow him on Twitter.
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