The Minnesota Timberwolves have fired president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau.
NBA media sources first reported the news Sunday evening, which was later confirmed through a team release. Assistant coach Ryan Saunders, son of the late Flip Saunders, will take over on an interim basis and becomes the youngest head coach in the NBA at 32 years old. General Manger Scott Layden will handle day-to-day operations of the basketball department.
Thibodeau took over in Minnesota before the 2016 season following five seasons with the Chicago Bulls, where he went 255-139 and made the playoffs each season. Thibodeau finished with a 97-107 record overall in Minnesota, including a 19-21 mark this season.
“We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”
Thibodeau returned the Wolves to the playoffs last spring after a 13-year absence. The Wolves barely reached the postseason, needing to beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime at home in the final game of the regular season, and were beaten by the Houston Rockets in five games in the first round. Prized acquisition Jimmy Butler, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago, pushed the organization into a corner when his stance that he wouldn’t sign a new contract with the team became public a week before training camp began.
The insistence of Thibodeau and Layden to hang on to Butler as long as possible, shrugging off the distraction, backfired. The Wolves started 4-9, and after a winless five-game road trip, the awkwardness was too much for even Thibodeau and Layden to ignore. Butler was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in a package that brought Robert Covington and Dario Saric, two promising players who’ve fit relatively well in the rotation.
The Wolves are only 15-12 since the Butler deal, though, in a Western Conference that is as stacked as ever. With Taylor’s commitment to maximum-salary contracts for both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, there’s no more room for patience with a franchise that has had to start over so many times since Kevin Garnett led the Wolves to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Thibodeau wasn’t expecting the news, and another former Bulls coach, Fred Hoiberg — who succeeded Thibodeau and was let go earlier this season — is under consideration for a front office role, though not a combined one.
(more at nba.com)