In fact, Towns said he told assistant coaches just last week that he felt the organization was gaining some much-needed “stability” and that he was finally feeling comfortable within his team’s schemes.
“I jinxed that badly,” Towns said Monday, after the Timberwolves (19-21) gathered for their first practice without Thibodeau’s familiar, gravelly voice leading the drills.
Towns is just 23, but he has seen plenty during his four seasons with the Timberwolves. Flip Saunders, the man who drafted him, died after battling cancer. Towns’ first coach, Sam Mitchell, was fired after just one season. His highest-profile teammate, Jimmy Butler, forced a trade after a messy training-camp holdout.
And now Towns’ second coach was fired shortly after a blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
CEO Ethan Casson and general manager Scott Layden fired Thibodeau in the coach’s office immediately after the 108-86 home win. Thibodeau, and his former players, were all caught off guard. Towns and Andrew Wiggins were notified of Thibodeau’s firing by phone. Towns said he was not given a clear explanation as to why.
“We had just celebrated a good win, so we all went home thinking the day was over,” Towns said. “It was just beginning.”
The Wolves appointed assistant coach Ryan Saunders, Flip Saunders’ son, interim head coach.
“I’m just taking everything day by day,” said Saunders, now the youngest coach in the NBA at age 32. “If you look at something as a trial, I think that’s when you start putting pressure on yourself or other people that just isn’t there.”
Derrick Rose, who is very close with Thibodeau, said he has not yet reached out to his former Bulls and Timberwolves coach. When he does, Rose said, they will speak by phone. Communicating via text message feels too impersonal.
“I’m hurt because Thibs is not here,” Rose said. “But, at the same time, I’m very cool with Ryan. And I’ve talked to him before and after practice. And I told him to run with this opportunity. But with Thibs, like, he took a chance on me when a couple of organizations had s—-ed on me.”
While Wolves owner Glen Taylor has said that Saunders will be considered for the full-time job, other names have already begun to emerge as candidates.
Minnesota may look to Sixers assistant Monty Williams, a players’ coach who could connect with franchise player Towns like he did with Pelicans star Anthony Davis when he coached in New Orleans. Former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who is close with Taylor since playing for the Timberwolves, is another possible candidate for either general manager or head coach, although he has said he would prefer a coaching role. Former Timberwolves player and current ESPN commentator Chauncey Billups also has drawn interest.
Minnesota will move away from the combined front office and coaching role that Thibodeau had, sources told ESPN. On Sunday, Layden declined to elaborate.
“I don’t want to comment on that dual role,” Layden said. “We have just the utmost respect and appreciation for [Thibodeau’s] work.”
Thibodeau’s firing is just the latest setback in what has been a turbulent year for the Timberwolves. They snapped a playoff drought last season and entered the 2018-19 season hoping to take the next step with a talented core that included Butler, Towns and Wiggins. Instead, excitement quickly turned to drama as Butler forced his way out of town.
Wiggins said Monday that this season has “for sure” had the most adversity in his career.
“There’s been a lot of stuff happening this season and we’re not even halfway through yet,” he said. “Hopefully we get more stability now and it slows down.”
But the season doesn’t stop. After practice Monday, the Wolves left directly for the Minneapolis airport for a trip to Oklahoma City and the first game of the post-Thibodeau era.