MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau is meeting with his staff to put together an aggressive game plan for the summer in hopes of adding some defensive tenacity to a young team that never quite got it on that end of the floor in his first season on the job.
Owner Glen Taylor hopes the stability of having the same coach for two straight seasons for the first time since 2013 will help the team move past yet another disappointing season.
Thibodeau is the Wolves’ fourth coach in the last four seasons. Flip Saunders died of lymphoma in October 2015, and the team decided to move on from interim coach Sam Mitchell last April after he went 29-53 in his one season. Thibodeau was given a five-year deal last summer to take over and instill his attention to detail and defensive focus to an impressionable young team, but they won just two more games this season than last with little discernible improvement on defense.
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“I’m of a belief that if they say that’s one of the factors, of course I’m going to say that my expectations are pretty high for next year because we have the same coach and he’s coming back,” Taylor told The Associated Press on Friday. “If you really believe that’s (the problem), then we’ve solved our problem. I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy. I wish it was that easy.”
Thibodeau held his season-ending press conference Friday, two days after they finished the year with a sixth straight loss. The Wolves went 3-13 in their final 16 games and finished the year ranked 26th in the league in defensive efficiency. He said they will head into this summer prioritizing adding shot-blocking, wing defense and shooting after the team finished last in 3-pointers made and attempted.
“I think every person in our organization has to ask what can we do different to change what has happened here over the last 13 years?” Thibodeau said. “That’s from top to bottom, there has to be a determination and a will to change it.”
That’s exactly what Taylor wants to hear. He hired the hard-driving Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden with an aim to expedite the learning process for a team with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. While all three young players and point guard Ricky Rubio exhibited significant improvement on offense under Thibodeau, the poor finish to the season and lack of improvement on defense concerned an owner that sits courtside nearly every night.
After starting the season 6-18, the Wolves seemed to find themselves around the All-Star break. They won six times in eight games, beating Denver, Dallas, Golden State, Utah and the Clippers to creep back into playoff contention. Then the defense took a nose dive and the Wolves faded.
“I’m a little bit concerned because it’s not logical to me what happened, that we just went along and we were playing good and we fell back into maybe old habits or old style of play,” Taylor said. “I have no explanation for that. I think it’s my job to make sure that I sit down with the coaches, Scott, everybody and ask them what do they think went wrong there.”
Thibodeau attributed the struggles to the team’s youth, injuries to LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica and his focus on immersing Towns and Wiggins in his system to prioritize laying the foundation for long-term success over winning games in the short term.
“It has to start with Karl and Wigg in that they have to make the commitment,” Thibodeau said. “In order to get all the things that they want to achieve, it has to start with them.”
Now if the Wolves are going to end a 13-year playoff drought that is the longest active skid in the NBA, they are likely going to have to make at least a 10-victory jump to do it, and probably more.
“It’s not like I’m upset and not like I’m mad,” he said. “I’m concerned because I know our task is going to be a little bit more difficult next year.”
Taylor and Thibodeau were both encouraged by Towns blossoming into an unstoppable offensive force and Rubio’s career year from a shooting standpoint that gave the pass-first point guard another dimension. Now the Wolves need to add some veteran help and it’s always been difficult to lure free agents to cold and snowy Minnesota, especially when the Wolves have not made the playoffs since 2004.
“I think guys will come here because they want to play with these guys that can win,” Taylor said. “But I sure wish we would’ve done better because we could’ve said `see we are on the right track.'”