To put a stop to the second longest playoff drought in NBA history, the Timberwolves turned to Tom Thibodeau.
The Timberwolves have been left out of the post season each of the past 12 years — a stretch only surpassed by a 16-year drought suffered by the Clippers from 1976-77 to 1990-91 — and just days after firing Sam Mitchell, tabbed Thibodeau to serve as both the coach and president of basketball operations.
Thibodeau’s first stint in the NBA was as an assistant in Minnesota during the team’s inaugural season in 1989 and embarked on a distinguished career as an assistant for over two decades.
Minnesota also named Scott Layden the new general manager of the team, as the team moved swiftly to fill its coaching vacancy.
“Through this process we quickly identified Tom as the best leader to shape our talented team and help them realize their full potential,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. “Tom’s resume speaks for itself. He is a proven winner, leader and one of the most well-respected NBA head coaches over the last decade.”
Thibodeau inherits a roster featuring small forward Andrew Wiggins, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and Karl-Anthony Towns, a talented center likely to be selected for the same honor in the upcoming days.
The Timberwolves finished the year with a 29-53 record, but did managed to hand Golden State its only loss at home during the year. Minnesota has an 8.8 percent chance of landing the top overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft lottery.
The team has a young foundation, but with an average age of 26.1, a number heavily skewed by the presence of 39-year-old Kevin Garnett, struggled to string together victories as it posted the third worst defensive efficiency rating in the league, an area Taylor expects to improve immediately.
“His teams have annually been among the league leaders in defense and we are excited about the approach and mentality he will bring to that side of the ball,” Taylor said. “The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves has never been brighter and we are very pleased to have Tom as our basketball operations leader moving forward.”
Following a two year stint as a scout for Seattle, Thibodeau served as an assistant in San Antonio, Philadelphia, New York and Houston before serving as the associate head coach of the Celtics under Doc Rivers during the summer of 2007.
At each stop, Thibodeau managed to instill a defensive system that produced tremendous results. During his time with both the Knicks and Rockets, the teams ranked as the third best defensive teams in the league.
His impact in Boston was felt immediately, as he helped transform Kevin Garnett into the Defensive Player of the Year and the team won its 17th NBA championship.
Defense was the key, as the Celtics ranked first in defensive efficiency and surrendered just 90.3 points a night, and 8.9 point decrease from the previous season.
Boston was statistically the best defensive team in the league during each of Thibodeau’s three seasons as an assistant.
Chicago named him head coach prior to the 2010-11 season as he improved the team from 11th defensively to the top ranked defensive team in the league, improved the teams’ win total by 21 games, helped the team surrender nearly eight points fewer per game and guided point guard Derrick Rose to the MVP award.
The next summer, he displayed plenty of savvy in the draft, as he selected shooting guard Jimmy Butler with the 30th overall pick, and he has since blossomed into a two-time All-Star selection.
Center Joakim Noah was tabbed as the Defensive Player of the Year following his fourth season with the team, but friction with the front office made the separation between the Bulls and Thibodeau inevitable.
Thibodeau would often rely heavily on specific players, resulting in a clash with the front office.
Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game twice, while Butler played the most minutes last season. In five seasons, a player logged at least 2,500 minutes on seven occasions.
Golden State has held MVP Stephen Curry sat out the entire fourth quarter on 17 occasions to help prevent injury.
Chicago decided not to renew his contract, hiring Fred Hoiberg, but he failed to lead the team into the post season this year.
After five straight playoff appearances, the Bulls failed to qualify without Thibodeau.
Minnesota is hoping the addition of Thibodeau is enough to qualify for a playoff run that has eluded the team for 12 years.