Tom Thibodeau will be the next President of the Minnesota Timberwolves, at $10 million dollars a year, if negotiations don’t fall apart. He will also be their head coach. Thus ends the pursuit of the top free agent not named Kevin Durant. Thibs was the coach everyone wanted to get. The defensive architect of the Celtics 2008 championship team who coached the Chicago Bulls to five consecutive playoff appearances including a Conference Finals appearance, a 60 win season, and two 50 win seasons, was the premier coaching hire, particularly when you consider that the five years that Thibodeau coached the Bulls his lowest defensive rating was 11th. His Bulls team had defensive ratings of 1st, 2nd, 2nd and 6th. Of course, he had skilled defenders to work with not yet available to Minnesota, as of yet. But as a teacher, Thibs translates defensive principles into on-court action.
Thibodeau is going back to where it all started. He was a Minnesota assistant in 1989-90 and Wolves owner Glen Taylor had been eyeing him all along, ever since Flip Saunders bravely and tragically succumbed to cancer, pushing forward a sad Timberwolves summer. It left a huge hole the Timberwolves and Glen Taylor waited to fill. The job was attractive because the roster is luxurious. Two Rookies of the Year (Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns) a Slam Dunk champion (Zach LaVine), Ricky Rubio and a lot of rotational players that fit. Except they don’t defend and some nights they just don’t play hard. While other nights, they beat the Warriors in Oakland.
Thibs being led to the Minneapolis altar means the next man up, Scott Brooks, has a huge field to himself and just about everyone wanting him. Because perception is reality, the myth that Brooks would have a hand in Kevin Durant coming with him, as if they are attached by the hip, makes Brooks much more enticing than his resume suggests.
Scott Brooks is a good coach who develops relationships with his players but he’s not a great coach. His OKC teams had two of the top 5 NBA players, a virtual mismatch every time they took the court. They were supposed to get to the NBA Finals more than once. When they did appear in the NBA Finals, OKC was supposed to look like a team with poise, not one with a deer in the headlights oh f**k aesthetic. The Finals looked like it was the last place they wanted to be, like root canal surgery. Brooks did a mediocre job of creating calmness that the players, as young and inexperienced as they were, could feed off of. They were tense and looked nothing like the team everyone thought was a dynasty in the making.
But Brooks is a good defensive coach. In three out of his six years in OKC, the Thunder had a top-10 defensive rating. Brooks delivered the Thunder to the playoffs every single year except his last year and Kevin Durant was injured so no one was surprised or blamed him. He won 60 games one year and 50+ games three times. Under his reign, the Thunder appeared in two Conference Finals and one NBA Finals.
His critics point to Brooks offense. It is unimaginative, veering on boredom. With two elite offensive iso players, Brooks was never known as a creative play caller, rather he was a put the ball in Kevin or Russ’ hands and get out the way. His first three years, OKC finished in the top-10 in assists. His last three years, they ranked 21st, 13th and 25th.
Brooks seems a natural fit for the Washington Wizards who have two elite scorers that dominate the action but Sacramento and Houston are also interested in Brooks as well.
The higher the demand, the higher the price, particularly given the Kevin Durant wishful thinking. Brooks, as close as he is to KD, is thought to have the upper hand when it comes to recruitment, sort of a package deal. The NBA has never had that bit of coach/player, I’ll follow you, you follow me transaction, but who is to say it can’t happen just because it never has.
The best thing that happened to Scott Brooks was OKC firing him. Change is good, even as Brooks was sad to leave. One year later, away from the Sam Presti micro-management, and free to set his own course and perhaps with Durant (which would plunge the Presti knife deeper), Scott Brooks can have the last laugh, as well as a fat bank account.
photo via llananba