We transcribed Tom Thibodeau’s entire 29 minute season-ending press conference held at Mayo Clinic Square last Friday for your reading pleasure below.
How do you think things went in your first year here?
I think overall when you look at it, like in every season, there’s going to be some good things, some things you didn’t do as well as you would like, and then you want to formulate your plan in going forward. So the big thing was to establish a style of play to develop the players that we had. I felt that our young core developed fairly well. We didn’t win as much as we would like and I think the big thing for our players to understand, and for everyone here, is that we have to change our culture and our team. To move forward, the big thing is going to be the commitment that has to be made to changing our defense. We have 151 days until camp opens next year. There’s a lot of work that has to be done.
I think the first question—we had our exit meetings yesterday—you know, I think every person in our organization has to ask, ‘what can we do different to change what has happened here over the last 13 years.’ That’s from top to bottom. There has to be a determination and will to change it and it starts with the work that needs to be done over the summer. But we have to approach it in a different way.
Takeaway: It’s up to the defense to change the culture in Minneapolis.
When you say change, how much does that entail changing the roster?
When the offseason comes, you start with the players that you have [that are under contract]. So you want to lay out the plan, and the immediate plan right now is for players go on active rest after a long season. They do light cardio, maintain a little bit of light activity, allow their bodies to heal. Then in four weeks we’ll bring them back and we’ll get going with the offseason program. So you start there. Then of course you have the draft that comes next, and then you have free agency that follows that, and then you also look at trade opportunities, what may come your way, but you’re always thinking about how you can get better in the offseason.
We also want to look at everything that we’re doing in terms of things we may want to change next year. We put the foundation in and now we can add layers to it and we have to execute it better. Everyone has to understand, I think the big thing—and I thought that Karl and Andrew and Zach improved significantly this year, when you dig into the numbers it says that—but they also have to understand that for this team to achieve and win, defense is synonymous with winning and they have to understand the importance of that. So they’re going have to change and improve.
Takeaway: The foundation is here, Thibs wants to add the right layers to that foundation to cover up weaknesses, and DEFENSE IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL. Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine all must take the next step defensively.
What aspect of your roster do you feel needs most upgrading when it comes to NBA winning basketball?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think as we look at it, and the obvious is the shooting component, but also the defense and how it all fits together. We know that with Andrew, Karl, and Zach, we have to build around that. How we add to our team and how we develop our team is going to be built around that. And so as we go forward in everything that we’re doing, whether it’s the individual work that we’re doing with the players that are under contract and the new players that we have, they have to fit what our needs are. I thought overall in some of the games that we did well in, the rebounding margin is vastly improved so that part is good. I think the consistency of our defense has to improve.
There was a stretch where I thought we were playing fairly well defensively and we weren’t able to sustain it, so I want to dig deeper into why. I know that when Belly went out we lost size and I thought that hurt us some, but the thing that may have been lost in that is his rebounding. Often times the initial part of the defense was good, we didn’t finish it as well as we should have, particularly late. And when we had leads, how did we give those leads up?
Takeaway: The Wolves want to add defensive minded players and shooters this summer.
With that consistency on defense that you’re looking for how much of it can be attributed to ‘hey these are just young guys that need to learn that’ and how much of it was just something else not sinking in?
That’s a big part of it. When you look at the age of our starting lineup, it’s very young. And so, alright. The big part of this, I think, is to also look at they’re young and they can get better and they have to get better. It has to be a commitment, it has to be important to them, and they have to understand what we have to do in order to win. But the fact that they’re young—when you have an older team what you’re hoping is you can maintain from year to year. Once a player gets into his thirties, you’re just hoping he doesn’t lose too much from year to year—when you’re young you’re hoping that the work is put in so they can and will improve, which they should. And that’s where we are. I think the more you go through things, the more you learn.
When you look at point differential, I think we finished at -1.1 and the eighth place team in the West is -0.5. And so it tells you you’re close, but you’re not there. You can’t assume that you’re going to make that step the next year without putting the work in because every team is going to try to improve going forward. So you have to be ready to make more of a commitment to get it right. As I mentioned, the big question in the organization is ‘what can I do differently.’
Takeaway: DO YOUR JOB!
How big of a priority is adding some veterans?
I think [it’s about adding] the right players. I do think experience is important. I also feel you have to look at the age of the three young guys in Karl, Wigg, and Zach, and make sure that the windows match up. And so I think that’s an important part of this. Last summer we had the money. We didn't get the guys we had targeted, but we also didn't misuse that money so we have great flexibility going forward. But it’s also important for everyone to understand that we do have to improve this summer.
Takeaway: Thibodeau and Layden have flexibility to make a big splash this summer and they know they have to improve the depth of the team and overall talent base.
How are you positioned for money to spend in free agency once you put aside what you’re going to need to re-sign Karl and Wiggins, and LaVine?
Great. Because to me cap space can help in a lot of different ways. You just have to make sure you use it wisely. What you’re doing is you’re creating assets. We have good young players, we have picks, and then you can turn that into more assets. The big thing is how do we develop the team? How do we improve the team? And that has to be everyone’s thought every single day. Like, OK, how are we getting better individually? How are we improving through the draft? How are we improving through free agency? How can we close the gap and get where we want to go?
Do you plan on taking a similar approach to free agency this year where you have a few guys you have targeted and if you get them great, if not, maybe you’re a little more conservative with not wanting to misspend again?
No. I think for us right now what we have to do is we have to plan. The immediate task is to study, prepare, and look at all the opportunities whether it be through free agency or trade ... all things are open. Whatever way we can improve the club, that’s what we have to do.
Takeaway: They aren’t going to be conservative or stagnant this summer.
Over the next two or three years, can you be physically tough enough with Wiggins, Towns, and LaVine on the floor at the same time?
Well, I think that the important thing to look at is the strengths and weaknesses of those guys and then also the people that you have an opportunity to have to add to the group to maybe cover up what may appear to be a weakness. I also think there will a maturity that goes along with those guys as they get older. Right now you look at them and it almost looks like we’re a college team and I think the importance of conditioning, being in the weight-room, doing all those things, will help the team move along. But we want to look at players that can help us win, we want to build winning habits every day. So I think we’ll look at all the possibilities.
When you say you missed on free agent targets last summer, was it as simple as money? Is this a free agent destination?
Every team is different, so you have different things to offer. Who gets free agents, it’s not easy. I think the big thing is, and the most important thing is—this has been my experience with the other team’s I’ve been with—with most players they’re going to look at your roster. And let’s not kid ourselves, the most important thing will be the money and then after that they look at the roster. How do they fit in? How does that make the team? If they feel this is the best opportunity for them to win big, I think we’re attractive to people. I think when you look at Karl and Andrew you’re talking about two guys that are really young. One guy is 12th in the league in scoring and the other guy, I think, is 16th. So those are great assets to have. Now the commitment to play both ends of the floor is critical for us.
Takeaway: Money is the most important factor in free agency and the Wolves have money to work with.
Are you confident that Zach is going to be ready for the start of next season?
He’s doing well. He’s in every day. I don’t want him to skip over anything; when he’s ready, he’s ready. As long as he continues to work. As we mentioned when it first happened, the recovery period is anywhere from 8 to 12 months and so the thing is you can measure in a lot of different ways (and better ways) when he’s ready. And so when he’s ready we’ll put him out there. But it will be step by step.
Takeaway: Step by Step. Day by Day. Zach will eventually be back to his old way.
Will his injury and the uncertainty of exactly when he will be back effect at all what you do this offseason?
No. I mean, it’s part of the planning part of it. We know depth is important. Who we put around people, how they fit together ... I think that will be important going forward also.
You think this injury will effect or complicate at all signing him to a contract extension?
Nah, you know, I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
What is the culture like around here now?
Well, I think it’s improving. I think it’s something that we have to continue to work at. What is your culture? It’s how you go about your business. It’s how you work. It’s how disciplined you are. It’s your commitment to winning, to playing for each other, to putting the team first. But I think when we look at our organization, you want to create an environment in which it can bring the best out of everybody. That’s something we have to work at every day; winning organizations have that.
Takeaway: Building the culture Thibs wants is still very much a work in progress.
Your first season was always going to be kind of an emergent evaluation but did some of your tenant philosophies shift over the course of the season when you started 6-18, for example. Did that change your rotation some when you thought now this got to be this way?
No. I think coming in—and I didn’t know how it would go from the beginning other than when I came in and studied the numbers and then I studied the film—I knew where we were. And so I thought it was important for us to not skip over any steps, to build a foundation, to take more of a longer view. And the first thing was OK, this is how we’re going to practice, these are the fundamentals we’re going to focus on, we’re going to try to start there. And then I thought there were a lot of games which we could have won. When you build a lead, to understand what you have to do to hold it, to play tough with the lead in the fourth quarter. Those were things that I felt we needed to improve upon, you know, once I got into a little bit more with our team. And of course, with Zach going out, with Belly going out, it was an opportunity for other guys to play. But I also felt like the important thing was for Karl and Wigg to develop. That part of it was good. I think offensively, other than the three-point shooting which we know we have to improve, I thought it was very good. And then defensively it was too up and down. And so that’s something that has to be prioritized. It has to start with Karl and Wigg and they have to make the commitment. In order to get all the things they want to achieve, it has to start with them.
Takeaway: Thibs wanted to take the long view when he took control of the Wolves. Towns and Wiggins must improve defensively.
Were you surprised at all this year how difficult it was to get these guys to consistently commit to playing disciplined defense?
That’s usually the biggest challenge when you have younger players. I’ve always felt when you’ve got a rookie or a guy even in the first couple years, it’s learning the NBA game that is so different than college. Then it’s learning the tendencies of players and the teams and then it’s understanding your own team. And it’s a process you have to go through. Usually the second time around it’s better, the third time around it’s better. And that’s what I want our players to learn and improve each and every day. To take a step back now, we will have an opportunity to sit down and go through game tape with them. Things that are happening in the playoffs now, and tailoring their workouts to the things we think they need to improve upon. And so now there is a much better understanding on my part and on their part of knowing what we’re trying to do.
Takeaway: From all the demonstrable frustration we have seen on the sidelines by Thibs, it was good to hear him acknowledge this is a process. He may be frustrated with the defense of Towns and Wiggins, but he clearly believes this can and will improve.
KAT and Wig certainly made some big offensive jumps again this year, would you prefer they put a primary focus on the other end of the floor?
Well I think that’s where the biggest need is. Offensively, when you look at where they are right now ... of course you always want them to approve, the good players always add to their games. So that’s what I want them to do. But the challenge is defensively. How important are you going to make that for our team, for yourself individually so that we can win. And I think part of the responsibility of being a great player is having the ability to bring the best out of everyone you’re around.
Takeaway: The last line sticks out to me, “the ability to bring the best out of everyone you’re around.” I do somewhat question this skill in Towns and wonder if his general disregard for team defense isn’t an indicator of this being an inability (insert sad music). He’s still so young though, and he’s learning. Defense is difficult. I also thought this sounded like he was describing Rubio, who always seems to bring the best out of his teammates.
With the offensive improvement Ricky showed since the All-Star break, do you think he is the kind of point guard you can win big with?
Yeah, I thought he got better and better as the season went along. You know the first month he had the injury, missed those five games, and i thought that slowed him in the way he shot the ball. I think, in looking at the season, I think he had career highs for points, assists, and field goal percentage. The three I think will be the next thing that comes. I think that he’s been a great free throw shooter. I think he’s shot a pretty good percentage this year from two, I think he was up to 45. And I think the three is going to come. I think he’s right there. He’s shooting the ball with a lot more confidence, so those are good signs.
Takeaway: I think Thibs is developing a crush. In all seriousness, getting to know Ricky has helped Thibs’ belief in the Spaniard. I assume his personality is infectious, but I think Thibs is drawn to the work ethic and the ability Ricky has to bring the best out of everyone. I do believe that about Rubio.
Did [Rubio’s] progression change your view of what his role can be for this organization in the next few years?
And again, I always thought he was a good player. Until you get around him, like with all players until you coach them you don’t really know them. You have a perception of them from competing against them or coaching against them of who they are. And I can see why Ricky has improved, it’s the way he works. I think that he was healthy for the most part after that initial injury. And then I think he gained a lot of confidence from the work he put in.
Takeaway: Clearly Rubio has grown on Thibs. I believe Rubio will be back unless something very unlikely happens (winning the lottery, or a Chris Paul caliber point guard wants to come to Minnesota.) Work, work, work, work, work, work...
So do you like [Ricky] more now then you did before?
Well I know him better, yeah. Seeing what he did for the team and how he runs a team and his vision. He’s a pass first guy. I think offensively we were top-10 in efficiency. We were very high in assists. I think the movement led to a lot of offensive rebounding opportunities—which we were one of the best. Points in the paint, I think Karl was the best in the league at that. So there were a lot of good things that he did. And the way he can push the ball, I was very pleased with that.
Takeaway: Ricky’s strengths played were a key factor in every category the Wolves excelled.
When you’re looking at players, where will toughness rank?
I think it’s pretty high. When you look at teams that win in this league, that’s it. Looking for guys that have a great passion for the game that will make the commitment and have the drive and toughness to succeed those are winning type players and that’s what we’re looking for.
Do you think there has to be a lot of turnover on the roster to get it where you need to go?
In the NBA there’s always change. Anything that makes sense that could make us better we’re going to take a look at, and obviously we’re not where we want to be. So I think we have to be aggressive with our approach. As they say, you take it step by step. The offseason is when you improve—improve the players you have, then you add your draft pick, and then you add free agents, and then you listen to see what opportunities [arise]. When you have good young players, people are interested.
Takeaway: This was read as Zach LaVine maybe being on the block, but I didn’t take it that way. I do think this signals a very open-minded offseason for Thibs and the Wolves, but nothing is imminent in my opinion.
Kris Dunn seemed to demonstrate an ability to guard twos and three as well as ones, does that give you a little bit more flexibility in terms of his role on the team?
It does. It does. I like the way he played defensively a lot. It’s something that we need desperately, the toughness and defense and discipline. I spoke to him yesterday at length. The one area I want him to cut down is fouling but for the most part I think he had a terrific year defensively and it’s unusual for a rookie to do that. So that was a big positive.
I liked the way he played. He played well at times with the starters and Ricky, and played well at times with the bench and Tyus. I liked having that flexibility. I think having a second point guard on the floor adds a lot to your offense. Particularly if you have a guy with that type of speed and athleticism. You can put Kris on point guards, twos, threes, it really doesn’t matter.
Takeaway: Dunn struggled this season, but with a coach who puts as much emphasis on defense as Thibs does, he will remain in good standing in the Wolves. I don’t see Dunn moving to the starting lineup anytime soon, but I also don’t see his role changing or him being traded.
How much growth did you see from Dunn from the first game of the season to the 82nd game where he had 16 assists in Houston?
I thought it was a good way for him to end the season. I think he’s in a far different place today than he was when he first came in. Which is not unusual for rookies. I think when they come in the initial thought is that it’s the same game. You don’t realize the size and the speed and the athleticism and how hard it is to finish in this league. I think having gone through it now I think he has a good understanding of all the things he has to work on this summer. I think he will. I think he’s very bright, he doesn’t fool himself. I think he’s looking forward to the challenge.
How much do you need to improve that second unit so you don’t have adventures in the third and fourth quarter again?
Part of that too was Zach going down and then Belly going down. I think that obviously the depth piece is very important.
Is the plan to keep Shabazz this offseason?
Well we like him. We’ll see how it works out. He does a lot of good things. He’s an attacking player, he’s got toughness. I thought he got better as the season went along so we’re optimistic.
Takeaway: This is a hard question to answer. Thibs’ facial expressions were awkward here. The praise lauded felt as if it was a send off of sorts. Would the Wolves match a small offer sheet? Maybe. But I think the contract Muhammad will be offered by other teams is not one the Wolves will feel comfortable offering.
Given how well Gorgui and Zach work together, could you envision them spear-heading a second unit if you acquire the depth that you want?
That’s a great question. I think even if one starts and the other one doesn’t still getting them together at different times [will happen]. It would probably be premature because I don’t know what the other pieces would be but just as we did with Karl and we did it with Zach when he was there, I like having those guys having the ability to play with both units. So we were getting Karl out early and bringing him back with the second unit and I thought that helped a lot. So that’s something we’ll probably continue to do, but also looking at who some of the other guys are and how it all fits together.
Takeaway: It was good to hear Thibs acknowledge the possibility of bringing either of those players off the bench. This seems like an inescapable necessity if the Wolves are to raise their ceiling.
Were you at all surprised by how much Towns and Wiggins were able to pick up their scoring when Zach went down?
From the beginning of the season, I thought, they continued to get more aggressive. I think even if Zach had stayed it would have been the same. When Zach went down—you don’t replace a guy like Zach— it’s gotta be a team thing. I thought Belly stepped up too and started playing really well. It was unfortunate when he got hurt, I do expect those two guys to continue to grow. Not just scoring-wise but playmaking and the defense is the big thing. And I think both Karl and Andrew they get double-teamed a lot more and I think the approach for the both those guys this year was that the opponents weren’t waiting to see if they got going. I think that’s something they went into games with and said we’re not going to allow these guys to get going and then we have to show that we were capable of hitting shots. So, the nights that we did, you know we had a good chance to win. The nights we didn’t it was tough, it was tough on those guys too.
Do you anticipate Rubio being this team’s starting point guard next year?
As of today, yeah.
Takeaway: Hmmmmmm...OK then!
Do you think Towns deserves to be an All-NBA player this year?
Um, that’s a good question. I think if you look statistically, I think yes. But I also know, and I shared this with him, that the way this usually works is you have to win. Similar to the All-Star game. I thought he had deserving numbers to be in the All-Star game, but I know as a coach when I voted there’s obviously some clear cut choices at the top but then when you start looking at guys that are similar and are close and you’re trying to make a decision—okay, who are we going to go with here—you always come back to okay who’s team won more? So I think the winning part of that is critical. I know people look at things and they may say well those are stats on a losing team or “empty stats,” and that’s why it’s so important to win and to have the understanding of how important defense is.
Takeaway: Interesting that he used the term “empty stats” when describing how Towns can be perceived. It’s seems to some extent that Thibs will view Towns’ production to be somewhat empty so long as the defense continues to be an issue.
Tom, when you look at evaluating the inconsistency on defense how do you look at it in terms of these are young guys who have to come around to that and absorb it better or are there different ways you can relay things or teach to them, to get it to sink in?
Well, I think part of it is when you are young you don’t understand that you have to do it all the time. And how important it is and how you can’t rest on defense. And also understanding that the NBA is a long game, it’s a much longer game than college.
To answer your question about how we approach it, again you go through the entire season and evaluate these are the times we did it well, these are the times we didn’t. Why didn’t we do it well? I always say there are two things you always look at before you change. One, was it being done hard enough? And then secondly, was it being executed properly? And then sometimes the answer is they did both of those things and you have to take a look at something else. That’ll be the first thing to go through and evaluate. And then to also look at some things and say okay we’ve got the foundation in and this was a very basic approach to what we wanted to do. And now to add some layers onto it that can maybe cover up for some things that we didn’t handle well. Again, you go step-by-step. And that brings me back to the point I opened with, about everyone in the organization from top to bottom has to take a look at how they can do things differently to change the result. And so you start with yourself, and then you work your way out, and then to develop a plan for everyone to move forward so we can give ourselves our best chance next season of having success.
What is the most important things this team needs to add?
Probably some defense—shot blocking, a wing-defender, and then the shooting. We’ve got to add more shooting.
Takeaway: Yeah, this team really needs to add a few more shooters.