Tom Thibodeau is one of three men in the NBA with what many consider too much power: he is at the same time head coach and president of basketball operations. Thibodeau picks the roster he coaches, and that power is evident in his construction of the 2017 Minnesota Timberwolves. This summer, the Wolves have acquired three players Thibodeau has previously coached: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. The Thibodeau connection seems to be at least a consideration for evaluating potential additions to the Timberwolves roster. One has to question, is too much weight being put on a player’s past relationship with Thibodeau?
To answer that question, lets look at the guys Thibodeau has brought in. Butler has been an all-star three years running, and has three NBA All-Defensive Second Teams to his name. Gibson is a tough defensive-minded big man who was runner up for 6th Man of the Year in 2014. Speaking of 6th Man of the Year in 2014, the guy who beat out Gibson for the award was Crawford. Crawford is the owner of three 6th Man of the Year awards, and is known for his scoring ability off the bench. These three players are all good NBA players who make the Timberwolves a better team right now. Of these three players, the only one who might be considered overpaid is Gibson, who received a two year, $28 million deal. An alternative to Gibson is Patrick Patterson, who plays the same position as Gibson and arguably fills the Wolves needs better. Patterson received a three year, $16.4 million contract from the Thunder, the team that let Gibson walk. While Gibson is a good player, it is a bit alarming to see how much more he is being paid than Patterson. Maybe Thibodeau thinks Gibson is a better fit for the Timberwolves. Maybe he thinks Gibson is a flat out better player than Patterson. Maybe Patterson was asking for more, but the free agent market dried but by the time he was ready to sign a contract. It’s impossible to tell, but the Thibodeau connection appears to be some sort of factor.
With Thibodeau saying the Wolves are looking to add a point guard and two wings, the possibility of adding more of his former players is possibility. Beyond Butler, Gibson, and Crawford, who are some other players that Thibodeau has coached in the past that could round out the 2017 Timberwolves? Aaron Brooks comes to mind. Brooks is a 32 year old who filled the role of backup point guard for the Chicago Bulls during Thibodeau’s reign there. Brooks would battle Tyus Jones for the backup point guard spot. Another guard who might be an option is the recently bought out C.J. Watson, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago for two seasons. Like Brooks, Watson would be a veteran guard off the bench, likely competing with Jones for playing time. If Brooks or Watson were to be signed, it will be fascinating to see how Thibodeau decides to allot point guard minutes. Tyus Jones has shown flashes of being a capable backup, but perhaps Thibodeau prefers a veteran to come in and manage the game. For a team with playoff aspirations, signing a veteran point guard is not a bad idea.
Other Thibodeau players who could join the Timberwolves include three point shooting big man Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic might be on the outs with the Bulls after they drafted Lauri Markkanen with the seventh pick, but he is likely out of the Timberwolves price range. Mirotic would bring more floor spacing to the Wolves because of his ability to hit outside shots. Forward Mike Dunleavy is another player worth a look. Dunleavy is a 15 year veteran who is known for his outside shooting. A Thibodeau-Dunleavy reunion seems possible considering Dunleavy’s contract will likely be something the Timberwolves can afford.
Time will tell if the Timberwolves will sign another player with a past history of being coached by Thibodeau. Timberwolves fans can only hope that Thibodeau’s bias in favor of past players works in the team’s favor.