Top candidates to replace former Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau

Top candidates to replace former Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau


Top candidates to replace former Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau

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The Minnesota Timberwolves parted ways with president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau on Sunday evening.

Many were surprised that the organization fired the long-time NBA coach after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers by 22 points. However, the decision to move on from Thibodeau was not much of a shocker considering all of the dysfunction within the franchise this offseason surrounding Jimmy Butler.

To keep you informed, we’ve compiled a list of the top names emerging as a potential replacement for Thibodeau.

Ryan Saunders, Minnesota Timberwolves Interim Coach

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor says that he prefers to keep Saunders in the position after promoting him to interim head coach.

Saunders is described as a “coach to watch” and “rising star” by folks in the industry. Reid Forgrave wrote about the 32-year-old (via CBS Sports):

“[Saunders] is a young, bright, positive basketball mind. He’s an encourager. Would love to see him achieve success with this group. Whether it’s in Minnesota or elsewhere, he will make an excellent head coach someday.”

The coaching candidate was born in Minnesota and had lived in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for a large portion of his childhood as his late father, Flip Saunders, coached the Timberwolves.

Saunders has coached the team during summer league for the past few seasons. He’s only 32 years old, making him the youngest NBA head coach since George Karl made his debut in 1983 (also at 32 years old).

Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls Head Coach (2015-18)

It’s possible the decision to fire Thibodeau was made with Fred Hoiberg in mind, considering his past with the franchise. UCLA is reportedly interested in Hoiberg as well, which means that Minnesota may have been running out of time to have him as an option.

Several of the league’s top news-breakers have linked the former Chicago Bulls head coach to the potential vacancy in Minnesota. Hoiberg, who replaced Thibodeau after he left Chicago, played for the Wolves and served as their vice president of basketball operations.

Here is what Tom Haberstroh reported back in early December (via NBC Sports):

“Hoiberg might be a candidate to replace Thibodeau again. A league source close to the situation told NBC Sports that Hoiberg could be a candidate to take over in Minnesota where he’d be reunited with owner Glen Taylor. ‘Glen loves Fred,’ the source told NBC Sports.”

According to Wojnarowski, the Timberwolves may allow Hoiberg to choose between working in the front office or on their coaching staff. The 46-year-old already has experience in both fields.

After allowing Thibodeau to run the front office and coach the team, the ownership reportedly prefers to keep those roles separate moving forward. It’s possible, as such, both Hoiberg (front office) and Saunders (head coach)  could be hired.

Chauncey Billups, ESPN analyst

Minnesota has long coveted Chauncey Billups, who played for the organization from 2000 until 2002.

Before Saunders passed away in October 2015, he reportedly tried to hire Billups as an assistant. In fact, the understanding was that he would learn under the late head coach and then take over the gig (via Denver Post):

“Saunders tried to entice Billups to join the Timberwolves … as the team’s associate head coach, with the understanding Billups would take over the No. 1 job for the 2015-16 season, after a 12-month apprenticeship under Saunders.”

Billups is considered more likely for a front office role than one in coaching. But it’s worth noting that Wojnarowski reported that he is being considered for either opening left by Thibodeau.

If the Timberwolves go with Hoiberg as head coach, Billups could be slated for the front office vacancy. Or if Minnesota goes with Billups in the front office, Hoiberg or Saunders (or someone else mentioned) may be hired for head coach.

JEFF HORNACEK, New York Knicks Head Coach (2016-18)

Hornacek has some history with general manager Scott Layden, as he played for the Utah Jazz from 1994 until 2000 while Layden was working in Utah’s front office.

Layden, who is now Minnesota’s general manager, worked as a Jazz assistant coach and helped run the front office (running several drafts for Utah). He was the team’s Director of Basketball Operations from 1992 until 1996, and then he was promoted to VP of Basketball Operations and stayed in that role until 1999.

Since leaving his job as head coach of the New York Knicks, Hornacek has spent time working with the Brooklyn Nets as a consultant this season.

Unlikely because of current employment

Monty Williams, Philadelphia 76ers Assistant Coach — Wojnarowski linked the former New Orleans head coach to the gig with Minnesota. His previous experience as a head coach would give him an advantage, though he’s unavailable for hire until the offseason. 

David Adelman, Denver Nuggets Assistant Coach — The son of former Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman served as an assistant for the team from 2012 until 2015. He worked in player development the season prior. 

Chris Finch, New Orleans Pelicans Assistant Coach — The Toronto Raptors requested an interview with Finch before they eventually hired Nick Nurse to replace Dwane Casey during the offseason, but New Orleans denied them permission. Finch has invaluable experience running an offense centered around a talented big men having worked with Nikola Jokic in Denver and Anthony Davis in New Orleans. With Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota may be interested (but the Pelicans may deny them permission).

Other candidates worth mentioning

Becky Hammon, San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach

Ime Udoka, San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach

Jerry Stackhouse, Memphis Grizzlies Assistant Coach

Chris Fleming, Brooklyn Nets Assistant Coach

Nate Tibbets, Portland Trail Blazers Assistant Coach

David Vanterpool, Portland Trail Blazers Assistant Coach

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