Andy G: The Wolves won last night. KAT played well (21 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks) after laying an egg at Memphis. Against the Grizzlies on Monday, Towns scored only 7 points. Perhaps more shockingly, he shot the ball just 6 times in 38 minutes of action.
People have been talking about KAT, Thibs, and KAT and Thibs, for this entire season. Despite the team’s respectable win/loss record (now 15-11, a 47-win pace) both are believed to be underperforming: Towns because of bad defense and Thibs — maybe among other reasons — for playing his starters too many minutes. Not only is each guy under the microscope more than expected, but their own struggles are felt by many to be linked and their relationship is a source of discussion. This isn’t a slice of minutiae only discussed in the deep channels of Timberwolves Twitter or the comments section at Canis Hoopus. No less than Jon Krawczynksi — formerly of the Associated Press and now of The Athletic — dedicated a feature that went up early yesterday (before the Clips game and Thibs outburst) to the evolving and questionable relationship between Thibs and KAT. When Jon K writes about it, it’s a real thing.
After the game, Jerry Zgoda asked Thibs “does KAT play with more energy when he gets more touches” (on offense).? Thibs reacted.
— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) December 7, 2017
Whoa. I’m going to let you weigh in on that crazy look that came into Thibodeau’s eye as he confronted Jerry Z (the voice behind the question, from what we can tell), but I’ll just say that this is the first time I’ve seen Thibs react to a press question this angrily since he’s been the Wolves coach.
Patrick J: Thibs whoa dude you gotta chill! Your team just beat the Clippers in LA! Perhaps decompressing with KAT at the Warwick post-game would bring down the fire a bit. (!) As always, Taj would be there to offer a steady hand. (!!)
Seriously, Thibs’ momentary meltdown in response to Strib beat writer Jerry Zgoda’s question got our attention. It’s probably too soon to know what it means, if anything. I mean, most coaches occasionally blow off a little steam in a post-game presser and it’s no big deal right? Sheeyit, Smitch did this after every game!
Maybe. But perhaps not in Thibs’ case. After all, Thibs already runs hot. Perhaps too hot. I hope he has Mayo Clinic’s best blood-pressure medications at the ready. Basically, Tom Thibodeau is never not blowing off steam. That might or might not be a problem in itself.
Yet the escalation of force in last night’s presser was somewhat different, and perhaps more concerning, because of what we know about The Thibs Temper. And last night, more than ever in public since he took over the Wolves, Thibs’ ANGER was palpable and pure.
(Editor’s Note: Zgoda can come off like a troll sometimes. Sometimes more than sometimes. And to me, it sounded like Zgoda was passive-aggressively trolling Thibs, Thibs knew it, and Thibs corrected it. At least Thibodeau didn’t throw up his hands in the universal nonverbal “fuck it” gesture, proclaim #FakeNews, and then pretend not to hear any other reporter’s question.)
Did Zgoda peel back a layer of Thibs’ onion and reveal something about the coach’s personality we didn’t already know? Would that even matter for the team’s performance on the court?
The answers are no and no. That Tom Thibodeau has a temper and can be difficult with people around the team (the front office in Chicago, perhaps the media in Minnesota) is not exactly Top Secret Codeword information. Where I think it matters, but in a relatively small way only, is the optics: Thibs’ outburst made a coach whose temperament many Wolves fans already question look even angrier than believed. And the fact that he appeared close to losing control during his response won’t reassure those who think that Thibs’ intensity can lead him to lose whatever cool he usually has and have a harmful influence on his in-game decisionmaking–particularly in 4th quarters, where his Wolves have performed abysmally so far this season.
What do you take away from The Thibs Tirade?
Andy G: What I took is that he’s feeling real heat for the first time since taking control of the Timberwolves. I’ve attended 90 percent or more of Thibs’s post-game pressers at Target Center, and I can’t remember him snapping like this. If he doesn’t like a question, he usually just develops an incredulous look and recites some oft-repeated Thibs jargon about doing your job or the game telling you what is the right play or right decision. He doesn’t fire back at the questioner like he did to Jerry.
CLEARLY, there are issues involving Towns and Thibs, and Thibs is fully aware that we are fully aware of those issues — their existence, if not their full details. What is the first rule of
Fight Club NBA head coaching? It is Don’t Piss Off Your Star Player. Pissing off your star player in a serious way begins the slippery slope toward losing the locker room. Once you do that, you’re fired and nothing else matters.
Now, even as a staunch defender of Thibs the coach, I view this development as a good thing. He needs to feel a little bit of heat once in a while because that is the only form of accountability that can exist for a person in his situation. He’s the front office boss and head coach at the same time, and Glen Taylor owes him about $32 Million over the next four years. In other words, the only check on his power is enough public pressure that could sway Papa Glen into eating a huge chunk of money. Accountability is good in general, but especially for Thibs at this juncture where it’s universally accepted that he needs to stop playing his starters so damn many minutes. There’s a stubbornness there that will be difficult to crack. Outbursts like the one last night at least suggest that he’s not entirely uncrackable in general. Whether it’s a preview of future disputes over the playing time issue is an open question, but I view it as a baby step toward humility and possible progress.