Jim Mone/Associated Press
The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the team’s decision, while ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski detailed how the firing went down:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Minnesota CEO Ethan Casson and GM Scott Layden walked into Thibodeau’s office and fired him after the Lakers victory, league sources tell ESPN. Thibodeau was surprised at the timing, had no idea his ouster was imminent. Casson hadn’t been a fan of Thibodeau era.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix, assistant coach Ryan Saunders will take over for Thibodeau on an interim basis. Saunders is the son of former Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders.
Wojnarowski reported former Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is among the early contenders in Minnesota’s coaching search, adding he is also a candidate for the general manager position, which is currently held by Scott Layden. ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups is also a potential candidate for the coach or GM position, per Wojnarowski, who added Hoiberg is “focused” on an NBA coaching return.
The Wolves hired Thibodeau in April 2016, 11 months after he was fired by the Chicago Bulls following a five-year stint as their head coach.
His plan to rebuild the franchise was seemingly on track through two seasons. After going 31-51 during his first campaign in charge, Minnesota improved to 47-35 last year to earn its first postseason appearance since 2003-04.
Things started to fall apart late in the 2018 offseason, though.
Timberwolves shooting guard Jimmy Butler requested a trade and stayed away from the franchise for a majority of training camp and the preseason while awaiting a deal.
Butler returned less than a week before the start of the regular season after no trade was made, and he proceeded to headline one of the most bizarre practices in NBA history.
Wojnarowski reported the four-time All-Star selection targeted Thibodeau, who he previously played for with the Bulls, as well as general manager Scott Layden and teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor told Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune he was “OK” with how the coach handled the Butler situation and had no plans to fire him heading into the regular season.
“No, no, the only thing now is that we are starting to play games and I am asking him to concentrate on coaching,” Taylor said. “GM Scott Layden will help to see if any trades are available.”
Clearly the front office’s stance changed during the Wolves’ 19-21 start to the season. They defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 108-86 on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Butler was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers as part of what has now become a significant restructure of a team that entered the year with high expectations.
Along with the Timberwolves and Bulls, Thibodeau has also made stops as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics since joining the NBA coaching ranks in 1989.