Thibodeau swears he didn’t need the dual roles, though given the public friction between Thibodeau and Bulls management during his tenure in Chicago from 2010-15, it’s understandable that he might want it. “It wasn’t an absolute,” Thibodeau told The Vertical. “The biggest thing for me was alignment. Not that you have to agree on everything. When you put competitive people together, there are going to be disagreements. But once a decision is made, you have to be aligned. There has to be a belief system. [Boston’s] Danny [Ainge] and Doc [Rivers, who coached the Celtics from 2004-13], they were very much together. Danny was very inclusive. Danny talked to me every day. I learned a lot from that. And I have that here.”
“But the biggest thing was seeing how much all the organizations have grown. Staffs used to be about 10 people. Now it’s 40-50. There’s analytics, sports science, interns, strength and conditioning. Managing all these people. Understanding all the technology. Watching how some organizations utilize that information. The biggest thing was creating a real positive synergy to your building.” One camp Thibodeau visited was Charlotte. “He was more telling me do this better, do that better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, laughing. “We have that kind of relationship. Playing groups, drills, he would say, ‘I would do this, I wouldn’t do this.’ He studies. He just gets better. He was a great coach anyway. He’s a better coach now.”
Here, Thibodeau is in his element. Last April, the ink barely dry on his deal, Thibodeau gathered the team in Minnesota. “Get in shape,” Thibodeau told them, according to several players, “and get ready.” In July, the T’wolves gathered in Las Vegas during the NBA’s summer league. Team building. “Building relationships is important,” Thibodeau said. Before he joined USA Basketball in Rio de Janeiro, he encouraged the players to return to Minnesota early to work out together. Defense, of course, is Thibodeau’s hallmark. The Bulls jumped from 10th in defensive efficiency to first in Thibodeau’s first season — and never finished outside the top five after. The T’wolves ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season, an improvement from 30th the year before.