Over the past week, the discussion in Wolves Nation has been centered around Tom Thibodeau (ex-Chicago Bulls head coach) and Scott Layden (ex-San Antonio Spurs assistant general manager). The pairing is set to take over in Minneapolis, which means change is inevitable with new visionaries at the helm. Only six days after letting go of interim head coach Sam Mitchell, who took over coaching duties from Flip Saunders after his untimely passing last October, the hiring of Thibodeau and Layden — while widely praised and, for many, the obvious choice — was a bit of a shock to long-time fans due to its swift and pragmatic nature.
‘Swift' and ‘pragmatic' are two words rarely associated with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and specifically owner Glen Taylor, since the conception of the team in 1989. The franchise has been oft-ridiculed for its unnecessarily drawn out searches for general managers and coaches (see David Khan and Kurt Rambis), so the fact a decision was made so quickly at such an important time for the franchise, both in terms of the offseason and the future, has sent pleasantly surprised shockwaves throughout Minnesota and the NBA community.
It's fair to question and even be upset with the way that the firing of Mitchell was handled publicly. It was unfair to the man who was put in a nearly unwinnable situation and did a decent job, and the fact that the coaching search the Wolves conducted was probably more of checking off boxes than a totally unbridled search, but the organization, specifically Taylor, also deserve praise for quickly recognizing the candidate they felt would best help the team moving forward and finally going about business in a timely manner.
The hiring of Thibodeau may very well delineate a change in attitude within the franchise. With Thibodeau in town, the expectations of the Wolves will rise from young up-and-comer to perennial contenders and along with that comes pressure, both within and without the franchise. The pressure to win, possibly not right away, but it will come nonetheless, will only increase as the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, and Zach LaVine age and improve and it's fair to wonder how the franchise will handle that moving forward.
The hiring of Thibs has a strong scent of a win now attitude, something the Wolves haven't completely embraced since acquiring Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell nearly 15 years ago, and while that very well may be the case, it can't really be determined until the draft and free agency hits; that's when the NBA and Wolves' fans will truly know the direction the franchise wishes to go in the next year. Will the team now be more inclined to sign veteran free agents or to trade some of their young players for more solidified talent? And what ultimately happens with the coaching and training staff? Will Thibodeau be open to bringing back the likes of assistant coaches Ryan Saunders and David Adelman and Vice President of Sports Performance Arnie Kander? Will he and Layden choose a staff entirely of their choosing? These are important questions to consider over the coming months and it will be interesting to see how the franchise copes with the ebbs and flows of their successes and failures under the new regime.
Have no doubt, there will be ebbs and flows. The Wolves are still an extremely young team whose players will most likely just be hitting their prime when Thibodeau's contract ends in five years. The team will still experience growing pains along the way as they grow and morph into the players they should be able to become and adapt to the new coaching and playing style of Thibodeau. Of course, this won't necessarily be the easy transition assumed by many. The roster still has tweaks to be made, one's that will align with Thibodeau's vision, and is far from a finished product so turnover is to be expected, but the foundation is certainly there. The Wolves have the potential to be a very special team in the coming years. So much of that will depend on the dynamic that is formed among Taylor, Thibodeau, and Layden.
However, the unfortunate reality is that it's always possible the Wolves will revert back to old habits and what has become "normal"; the hirings of Thibodeau and Layden in and of themselves don't necessarily mean the Wolves are poised to take over league. But hiring high-level candidates is a positive step in the right direction that fans have to be excited about. After 12 years in the desert, the promised land of the playoffs isn't so unfeasible. With Thibodeau now leading the charge, they are that much more prepared to get there.