Potential candidates to be next Timberwolves head coach
FOX Sports North
The Minnesota Timberwolves fired head coach Tom Thibodeau over the weekend, immediately following a 108-86 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Although the timing was odd, the writing was on the proverbial wall. Sure, the hard-nosed coach led the Timberwolves to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004, but outdated offensive schemes and a disastrous finish to Jimmy Butler’s tenure in Minnesota ultimately spelled the end for Thibs. Now that he’s gone, who could the Timberwolves turn to take over as head coach of a talented roster? Read below:
Saunders was named interim head coach shortly after Thibs was fired, so he’s got a shot to earn the full-time gig next season. Saunders is the son of the late Flip Saunders, the most winningest coach in franchise history who’s responsible for constructing this team’s young core before he passed away in 2015. Ryan Saunders played two seasons for the University of Minnesota from 2004-06 and served as graduate manager for his final two collegiate years. He was brought in as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards from 2009-14, and he moved on to Minnesota in 2014. The 32-year-old will be the youngest head coach in the NBA since player-coach Dave DeBusschere in 1964. In fact, Saunders is younger than Timberwolves players Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng, all who are 33.
One of the first names to be thrown around as a potential replacement is Hoiberg, who was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Chicago Bulls in early December and has said he wants to get back into coaching. Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves from 2003-05, averaging 6.2 points per game over 155 contests in the final two seasons of his playing career. After retiring from the game, Hoiberg worked in the Wolves’ front office until he was hired in 2010 by his alma mater Iowa State to take over the program. He led the Cyclones to four NCAA tournament appearances before departing for the Bulls job in 2015, replacing none other than Thibodeau on the Bulls bench. Over three-plus seasons in the Windy City, Hoiberg compiled a 115-155 record (.426 winning percentage) and in his only playoff series as coach, the Bulls went up 2-0 but lost in six games to Boston in 2017. Hoiberg reportedly lost the Bulls locker room due to a dispute with -- get this -- Jimmy Butler, which eventually led to Butler being traded to Minnesota. And we know how that worked out.
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An opening in the Timberwolves organization will always be linked to Reeve, the four-time WNBA champion and head coach of the Lynx. Reeve has expressed her passion for the WNBA and has vowed her loyalty to the Lynx. But when Becky Hammon’s name was thrown around as a potential head coach and completed an interview in Milwaukee last offseason, Reeve told the Star Tribune she would consider a move to the league. “I love the NBA, and I watch a ton of it,” Reeve said. “I feel close to it. I do get pretty locked in on what I’m doing. But every once in a while when the topic comes up or I get asked about it, if the opportunity presented itself I would absolutely consider that.” Hey, maybe she could just coach both teams?
Billups has been chomping at the bit to join an NBA organization, whether that’s as general manager or coach. It looked like he might take over in Cleveland as GM before the 2017-18 season, but he withdrew his name from consideration before he was offered the job. Billups played for the Timberwolves from 2000-02, averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 assists per game in his second year with the team before becoming a free agent and signing with Detroit, where he went on to become a five-time All-Star and NBA Finals MVP. Would he be a good fit as head coach? Billups is well-respected around the NBA, but hiring a former top-tier NBA player as head coach doesn’t automatically mean it’ll work out (see Kidd, Jason and Fisher, Derek).
Hammon shattered a barrier in the offseason, becoming the first woman to interview for an NBA head coaching position when she met with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks turned to Mike Budenholzer to lead their bench, but Hammon remains an intriguing coaching candidate as Gregg Popovich’s lead assistant in San Antonio. She reportedly turned down an offer to become head coach of the men’s basketball program at Colorado State in the spring to stay in the NBA. Hammon has worked on Popovich’s staff since 2014, just one year after her playing career in the WNBA ended due to injury. Hammon, a six-time All-Star, was the only undrafted player named to the WNBA’s list of top 20 players in league history, released in 2016.
Williams knows his way around the NBA. He played for five different teams from 1994-2003, his best season coming with San Antonio in 1996-97 when he averaged nine points and 3.2 rebounds per game. After being forced into retirement due to knee issues, Williams served as an assistant coach in San Antonio and Portland. And in 2010, he was named head coach in New Orleans and spent five seasons on the bench, going 173-221 (.439 winning percentage) in the regular season while winning just two postseason games in eight tries. Williams coached the Pelicans to a 45-37 record in 2014-15 but was fired after they were swept by Golden State in the first round of the postseason. Later, Williams would land with Oklahoma City as an assistant, but after the tragic death of his wife in an automobile accident that season, he took time off from coaching, eventually joining San Antonio as vice president of basketball operations. Williams is now an assistant in Philadelphia.