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Tuesday Musings: The Mentality of Thibs

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Are the Wolves being hard negotiators or negotiating in bad faith?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In this mess of an offseason it is becoming difficult to discern what exactly is happening with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Part of this is simply due to the nature of the current front office. They have been notoriously tight-lipped (although that is what Heat writers say about Miami’s office and that has not exactly been true over the last few weeks) and are almost purposefully difficult for front offices and fans to deal with. When talking with reporters, Scott Layden will say little of note and Tom Thibodeau’s roundabout word-salads are often nothing more than coach-speak and inane platitudes.

The reports from the national writers have characterized the Wolves front office as incompetent boobs, unsure of how to do their jobs in the midst of a figurehead in Thibs who may be unwilling to see the writing on the wall and an owner whose inability (or ability) to step in and make provide clarity is only muddying the waters.

But here we are, almost three weeks after the initial trade request. Jon Krawcyznski of The Athletic did a great job breaking down how we got here, which you can check out here if you have a subscription to The Athletic. There are all sorts of rumors about what type of offers the Wolves have been getting, but it seems like what will decide how this plays out will boil down to one question. Is Tom Thibodeau being stubborn or obstinate?

The two words, of course, have extraordinarily similar meanings, as they are synonyms of each other. Yet I can help but feel they encapsulate the situation, not to mention perhaps being the two most apt words to describe Thibs’ style as a President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach.

The national reports are portraying Thibs as obstinate, unwilling to accept the fact that Jimmy Butler does not want to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, whether that is for reasons driven by his next contract or issues with his teammates. This version of Thibs is the one that we most often characterize him as, the coach that believed that regardless of what happened last season that everyone could come back underneath the fold for another postseason run.

However, it is also very possible that Thibs is simply being stubborn and holding out for the best possible deal. Of the trades that Thibs has overseen, the Wolves were seemingly the tough negotiator, as they were able to push for the returning first round pick in the Jimmy Butler trade that became not OG Anunoby (or as he is more commonly known, Justin Patton).

The reported trade offers that we have been hearing are not exactly setting the world on fire. The Nets reportedly are refusing to trade either D’Angelo Russell or Caris Levert. The Clippers have not yet offered Tobias Harris nor their newly drafted rookies. Who knows what the 76ers offer consisted of, but it was not likely high. The Bucks will not include Khris Middleton. The Heat offers seem to be all over the place, but it certainly sounded like the initial discussions did not include Josh Richardson, Justice Winslow, or Bam Adebayo, which if that is the case, then there really is no trade option with Miami.

The recent reporting by Shams supports this theory, as the Heat may finally be including Richardson in trade talks, which would be a necessary step towards a realistic trade. But of course, there is also the reporting that came along with that, which is that the Wolves were nearly finalizing a trade but then they suddenly demanded more assets, thus the story veers back towards being obstinate rather than stubborn.

Thibs history with the Wolves does not give us many clues. He has certainly been obstinate in many ways, most viscerally with the Derrick Rose experience. His year-long walkabout aside, Thibs has not embraced the tenants of the modern NBA with any interest in the space and pace type of Basketball, nor in building a roster that works towards that goal.

However, his insistence in making the team in his own image can be seen as simply stubbornness, as it is hard to say that the franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have seized the leadership mantle, particularly when it comes to, you know, winning basketball games.

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but we will find out which side the Wolves are falling on in the next few days as it is hard to believe that Butler not being traded reflects anything other than an obstinate approach. Or perhaps Thibs is just enacting is own personal “Madman theory,” convincing the entire league (and us) that he is ready to hit the nuclear button at the moment’s notice and force Butler to report to the Wolves and play out the year.

We will find out in the next eight days.