The Minnesota Timberwolves have fired president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau.
NBA media sources first reported the news Sunday evening, which was later confirmed through a team release. Assistant coach Ryan Saunders, son of the late Flip Saunders, will take over on an interim basis and becomes the youngest head coach in the NBA at 32 years old. General Manger Scott Layden will handle day-to-day operations of the basketball department.
NEWS: Timberwolves relieve Tom Thibodeau of his duties.
Assistant Coach Ryan Saunders will assume the role of interim head coach for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.
Full release: pic.twitter.com/sleIVTH1sM
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) January 7, 2019
Thibodeau took over in Minnesota before the 2016 season following five seasons with the Chicago Bulls, where he went 255-139 and made the playoffs each season. Thibodeau finished with a 97-107 record overall in Minnesota, including a 19-21 mark this season.
“We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”
Christopher Hine of Minneapolis Star Tribune relayed the following additional comments from Taylor:
“I said let’s let it go and see how things worked and I think now, we’ve gone up through halfway through the season and I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be or where we think we should be.”
“We’ve gone … halfway through the season, and I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be, or where we think we should be. We still have hopes to get into the playoffs, and I think with half the season left, let’s see if this change will make a difference.”
“I’m just looking at the results. The results are that I don’t think we should’ve lost against Phoenix or Detroit or New Orleans or Atlanta. Maybe one of those games. We just lost against a bunch of teams that we’re [better than].
“Now why? I don’t think I know the exact reason, but I know it shouldn’t have happened.”
Glen Taylor on firing Tom Thibodeau: "I said let’s let it go and see how things worked and I think now, we’ve gone up through halfway through the season and I don’t think we’re where we thought we would be or where we think we should be."
— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) January 7, 2019
Thibodeau returned the Wolves to the playoffs last spring after a 13-year absence. The Wolves barely reached the postseason, needing to beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime at home in the final game of the regular season, and were beaten by the Houston Rockets in five games in the first round. Prized acquisition Jimmy Butler, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago, pushed the organization into a corner when his stance that he wouldn’t sign a new contract with the team became public a week before training camp began.
The insistence of Thibodeau and Layden to hang on to Butler as long as possible, shrugging off the distraction, backfired. The Wolves started 4-9, and after a winless five-game road trip, the awkwardness was too much for even Thibodeau and Layden to ignore. Butler was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in a package that brought Robert Covington and Dario Saric, two promising players who’ve fit relatively well in the rotation.
The Wolves are only 15-12 since the Butler deal, though, in a Western Conference that is as stacked as ever. With Taylor’s commitment to maximum-salary contracts for both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, there’s no more room for patience with a franchise that has had to start over so many times since Kevin Garnett led the Wolves to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Thibodeau wasn’t expecting the news, and another former Bulls coach, Fred Hoiberg — who succeeded Thibodeau and was let go earlier this season — is under consideration for a front office role, though not a combined one.
Fred Hoiberg is a serious consideration of Minnesota owner Glen Taylor to become either the GM or head coach in the future, league sources tell ESPN. Hoiberg was an assistant GM in Minnesota prior to Iowa State. Scott Layden remains GM now.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 7, 2019
Taylor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Saunders will have every chance to win the coaching job for good. Saunders played four seasons at the University of Minnesota and was an assistant coach there before spending five seasons as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards.
“My hope would be that Ryan takes over and we play well or good enough to get into the playoffs and do well there and that Ryan would earn to be the permanent coach,” Taylor told the newspaper. “That would be my hope.”
In regards to Layden’s status, Taylor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “He’s under contract and he’ll be in charge. He’ll still be the GM, but we’re going to the traditional thing. We won’t have a basketball president or the coach to do both. Scott will be in charge of basketball operations.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.