The Timberwolves introduced Tom Thibodeau as president of basketball operations and coach, along with Scott Layden—who will take over as general manager — on the Target Center main floor in front of assembled media, team employees, and season ticket holders Tuesday afternoon.
Even part of the young core that attracted Thibodeau back to Minneapolis, where he got his first NBA gig as an assistant coach under Bill Musselman in 1989, sat in the first row just as eager as the next person to get their first glimpse of the new leaders.
The four players in attendance were Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, and Tyus Jones, though there's not much reason to read into who was there and who wasn't. These were the only players currently in Minneapolis. "I am trying to track them all down now, so I have to get the real phone numbers," Thibodeau responded when asked how many players he's been in contact with, especially those overseas.
"Right now I am probably on the fourth number but I will get there," he said. "Trust me I will get there." Thibodeau joked that email correspondence might work better as he works to introduce himself to the entire roster.
The new basketball operations leadership group—Thibs and Layden—fielded questions after owner Glen Taylor's opening remarks, which brought back old memories while providing a deeper understanding of his thought process behind one of the most significant moves in franchise history.
"First of all I want to say I'm very excited," Taylor said. "I'm excited for myself. I'm excited for the fans. I'm excited for our team. I'm excited for all of the employees of the Timberwolves. And why am I excited? Because you only get this unique opportunity to go for the top every once in a while in your lifetime.
"With the Timberwolves, we had that when we got Kevin [Garnett], we got Stephon [Marbury] and we got Tom Gugliotta—three young guys that I thought we were going to build a team for the future. It didn't work out that particular time. The second time was when we brought in [Latrell] Sprewell and Sam Cassell to play with Kevin [Garnett] and the other guys — we had everything going. Again, it was injuries. We had Fred Hoiberg as our last guard to play in that game, otherwise we could have perhaps been in the championship game.
"Now we have the third opportunity. We have an outstanding group of young players and this is a unique opportunity for us to go for the championship again. Not for one year, not for two years, but over many years, if we can put this together right. So that's why I'm excited for myself and everyone else. Part of that was to bring in some help to make sure that we have this opportunity and make the most of it. You will note that when I offered these two gentlemen a contract, I offered them both five years because that's just the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term goal of this team, to be one of the elite teams in the NBA for many years to come."
Taylor moved toward discussing his intentions moving forward as the majority owner in the midst of plenty of questions surrounding the teams ownership after months of discussions with Steve Kaplan about selling 30 percent of the Wolves, which were put on pause as Kaplan needed to sell off the shares he owned in the Memphis Grizzlies before the deal could proceed.
"Speaking of long-term, I guess I want to address this right now," Taylor said. "Some want to know what my commitment is. So I think I've answered that commitment. I'm with these guys for the long run. This is not going to be a one-year, two-year, three-year, four-year, five-year deal. In my mind, this is going to be longer than that and I'm committed to this team over that period of time."
According to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Taylor's plans have officially shifted. "His plan to sell a chunk of the team now and controlling interest in it later to private-equity investor Steve Kaplan has been scrapped and instead he has held negotiations with other investors to sell two smaller pieces of 5 and 10 percent," Zgoda wrote late this morning.
Going All In
Taylor knew he had to go all in at this pivotal juncture. That was the only real play with his hand, and indeed he pushed all of his chips in the middle with this move; 5-year commitments for both Thibodeau ($8 million per year) and Layden ($2 million) worth $50 million, along with the aggressiveness in striking the deal quickly, proves that he's willing to risk everything on this pairing.
With the league's most talented young player in Towns and the immense promise of Wiggins on the wing, the Wolves have two franchise cornerstones other organizations are drooling over. Add in the tantalizing skills of Zach LaVine off ball, with his elite speed and ultra smooth catch-and-shoot game, along with the calming influence of Ricky Rubio guiding his youthful counterparts as the floor general that brings everything together on both ends of the court with stingy defense and supreme passing chops, and Thibodeau and Layden take over a fascinating core with insane upside; this is a foundation the new coach in Minneapolis called the best young roster in the NBA.
"The big thing for me with this job was the makeup of the roster," Thibodeau said. "I just love the makeup of the roster and that did not happen by accident. That was Flip's vision. He had a well thought out plan of how he wanted to rebuild the team. He executed it great and when you look at where we are today, that's not only the young core that we have, we also have another high draft pick, we have great cap space, we have great flexibility moving forward. So those were some of the reasons why I decided to come here. I'm thrilled to be here."
Gorgui Dieng— who recently wrapped up the best season of his career under Sam Mitchell, while solidifying himself as an instrumental part of the future moving forward— and microwave scoring sixth man Shabazz Muhammad are the next two biggest names on the roster. Nemanja Bjelica and Tyus Jones are both unknowns at this point but each showed promising signs of growth during their rookie season, and as Thibodeau said, the cap space, flexibility, and the rights to the fifth best odds in this summer's draft lottery are other assets for him and Layden to work with this summer as they craft the roster to fit their vision.
Not everybody will stick around and plenty of moves are certain to come, but the point in bringing up all of these players is this: there was literally too much at stake from an asset perspective right now to simply settle for anything but the best available coaching candidate to harness the talent, to unlock the potential in various players and figure out exactly who doesn't fit long-term. With Thibodeau's rich history of relationships, learning experiences, work ethic, defensive principles, and incredible success in five years running the Chicago Bulls— his .647 winning percentage as head coach ranks seventh in NBA history (minimum of 200 games)— he was absolutely the dream hire at the most crucial time.
Ultimately, Taylor opened up his checkbook with his eyes on the rise by locking up arguably the most sought after candidate on the coaching market, pairing him with somebody Thibodeau unquestionably wanted to work with and certainly trusts from prior experiences.
"For me personally this is about alignment," Thibodeau said in response to a question about how he and Layden would collaborate in the front office. "It's not about power, it's not about any of that stuff. I have known Scott [Layden] a long time, we have shared our philosophies with each other, we feel very strongly about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. I am glad we have the opportunity together."
The introductory press conference offered only the first glimpse at the newest leaders in team history but it was the dawn of the New Wolves Order and the unveiling of the latest tandem set to help write the next chapter, perhaps the most promising one yet.
Thibs: "Many of you know that I got my start here over 25 years ago and many things have changed since then—most notably my hair. I don't know who put it out there, probably Karl [Towns], somebody, but I know this, that the mullet photo that's floating around, I thought that had been buried in the archives long ago. My nephews and my niece are killing me, but I guess it's still out there."
Layden: "I'm the son of a coach and I look at coaches and have such admiration and appreciation for what they do, so when Glen told me that he wanted Coach [Thibodeau] to coach this team, I was super excited, I just can't tell you. You guys are going to have an unbelievable experience. It's great for you to be here, but the journey that's ahead for you is going to be fantastic because having a strong coach anchors organizations. I've been fortunate to be around unbelievable coaches, my father, Coach Sloan, Coach Van Gundy, Coach Popovich, it's something special and now Coach [Thibodeau]."
Thibs: "I am a strong believer in that, each team is different, you analyze what the strengths and weaknesses of the club are, you play to those and then you figure out what is going to give you the best chance to win. If you try to play like the Golden State Warriors and your team isn't built like Golden State, you are going to fail. The important thing is to analyze who your team is and play to those strengths."
Taylor: "Even though I said we are committed for a long run, I don't want the first years of learning to take too long and I think these men will help us get there very fast not only with the group that we have, but as we explained that Scott's main job will be to look at the talent that we don't have on our team this year through the draft, or through a trade or on the free agency market. My expectations are that we have to make some really smart moves in that area to be competitive and I trust that they will get this done."
Thibs: "Last year was a great year. I visited teams September and October and went back the last month of the season. I believe I visited thirteen teams. When you don't have your own team and you're not worried about who you are playing next or the game after that, you have a much broader view on everything. It was a great year for me in terms of giving me the opportunity to reflect, recharge, and learn. I went to different teams all over the spectrum. Some were young teams trying to build their foundation, some were in the middle, some were on top. It was a great year; I took a lot from it. Not only that, but the recharging part was important to me as well. I had the opportunity to take some vacation time, spend some time with my family in Connecticut for Thanksgiving and Christmas, things I haven't done in twenty years. It was a lot of fun for me."
Thibs: "As I said I don't see us getting stuck like that [in terms of who has final say when disagreements arise]. I will share a story about Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner. They were the original owners, two great guys. Marv was a character and he was wonderful to me. One day we were sitting down and I was asking him about how he accomplished all the things he had accomplished in life and he started talking about his partnership with Harvey. He said that basically they had to agree on everything. If they disagreed on something, the person who disagreed had to listen to the other person as to the reasons why. So you had the opportunity to try and change that person's mind. In the end if the person didn't change their mind, they didn't do it. I'm not saying that is what we will do, but it made a lot of sense to me. We are going to be close on most things, and in the end Glen is probably going to make the decision because it is his money. We are going to try to convince him together why we need to spend it. Obviously we are excited about that. The ownership piece, the roster and us working together, the thing I like about Scott is I have worked with him before. When I worked with him in New York, I spoke to him daily. Everything is a process, gather the information, organize it and make a decision. I feel good about that. We are aligned in how we think and I think that is important."
Thibs: "I think we have a young core that have shown some very positive signs early on. When you look at them and evaluate the strengths of the club and where we have to go, you first look at challenging everybody to be complete on both sides of the ball. I think to correct our defense and our rebounding, that is going to have to be a team-wide commitment. Obviously when you look at the things Karl has done as a first year player— very, very impressive— but there is a lot of work to be done and there is a lot of room for growth for him. I think what Andrew [Wiggins] has done going from the first year to the second year where he made a big adjustment. I know firsthand from his rookie year in coaching against him, how hard he was to stop. He makes it look easy. That was very impressive. When I look at his overall game, I think there is another level for him to get to. I think his rebounding and defense can go to another level. Shabazz [Muhammad] has been terrific scoring. As soon as he goes into the game it is fast and the motor gets going. Again, defensively, he is going to have to improve. Zach [LaVine] has come a long way. He shot the ball a lot better. I think the three-point shooting for us offensively has to improve. We have to put a lot of work into that."