The Minnesota Timberwolves fired president and coach Tom Thibodeau on Sunday, clearing the way for ownership to revamp the team’s basketball operations.
The move came moments after the Wolves’ 108-86 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers improved their record to 19-21, including 14-6 at home. They are 11th in the Western Conference standings.
Minnesota CEO Ethan Casson, accompanied by general manager Scott Layden, walked into Thibodeau’s office and fired him after the victory over the Lakers, league sources told ESPN. Thibodeau had no idea his ouster was imminent, sources said.
Layden will remain in place for now but his future remains uncertain, sources said. Former Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg as well as ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups have been discussed as possible candidates for GM or head coach, sources said, but the organization has yet to reach out to either.
Hoiberg is a favorite of owner Glen Taylor, though there is concern within the organization that it could lose him as a candidate should UCLA aggressively pursue and hire him for its head coaching opening, sources said. Hoiberg prefers to stay in the NBA as a coach than return to college basketball, a source said.
The Timberwolves plan to separate the powers of front office and coach, which would leave the San Antonio Spurs as the only franchise where the coach, Gregg Popovich, holds final say over basketball operations decisions.
Assistant coach Ryan Saunders, 32, will take over as Minnesota’s interim coach. He’s the son of the late Flip Saunders, who had two stints as Timberwolves’ coach.
Minnesota also dismissed assistant coach Andy Greer, who had a close association with Thibodeau, sources said.
Thibodeau’s status became tenuous after the saga of Jimmy Butler‘s trade demand destabilized the franchise earlier this season. Minnesota has gone 15-12 since trading Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers in November, after opening the season 4-9 with the four-time All-Star.
Thibodeau was surprised over the timing of the dismissal on Sunday, expecting that he might finish the season as coach, sources said. He did not have a strong relationship with Casson, who has lobbied for a coach who worked better with the business side of the organization and inspired fewer problems with public relations.
There were concerns on the business side of the Timberwolves about renewing season tickets and sponsorships without a change in basketball operations, sources said. For now, Layden can help navigate the organization through the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
Taylor had seriously considered dismissing Layden earlier in the season but stayed with him, sources said. Thibodeau had final authority in basketball operations, and Layden essentially worked for him.
Thibodeau led the Timberwolves to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 14 years in 2017-18. He ends his tenure with a 97-107 record, with his win total tied with Rick Adelman for the second-most in team history.
“We would like to thank Tom for his efforts and wish him all the best,” Taylor said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”
Hoiberg was fired as the Bulls coach in December, less than three seasons after replacing Thibodeau there. Hoiberg, who played his final two NBA seasons with Minnesota, served as the team’s assistant GM until returning to his alma mater, Iowa State, to coach in 2010.
Billups played two seasons with the Timberwolves from 2000 to 2002 before signing with Detroit in free agency.