By: Drew Mahowald
Alright, fine, I'll confess -- when Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor hired Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden to lead the front office, I was a bit scared.
And, really, I still am scared.
A year ago, Flip Saunders was still the man in Minnesota. He was on fire, too, having acquired Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns in a matter of two seasons to join Ricky Rubio on Minnesota's young roster. Saunders, even without considering his ties to Minnesota and the Timberwolves, just gave fans a reason for hope, and a reason to be confident in the future.
After Saunders' tragic death, Sam Mitchell and Milt Newton each did their part in carrying on Flip's vision for a season. However, Taylor decided to go a different direction before the upcoming 2016-17 season.
Taylor decided to go with a front office duo made up of one guy with no executive experience whatsoever, and another guy with a very questionable resume other than the words "San Antonio Spurs".
Don't get me wrong, I have absolute faith in Thibodeau as a head coach. He was arguably the greatest coach on the market and given that he specializes in constructing elite defensive units, was also probably the best fit for the Wolves. Nothing about Thibodeau as a head coach scares me.
But you're kidding yourself if you didn't have at least a little bit of doubt about Thibodeau as a front office executive. I mean, the guy's first gig is toying with a roster that might be the best combination of youth and talent in the NBA. On top of that, the former Bulls head coach just seems like a wild card -- he definitely tries to carry the water on the golf course when he is 250 yards away. Given Minnesota's history with executives (I'm talking about YOU, David Kahn), of course I'm afraid of the scary potential on this team being wasted.
And Layden, hoofta. Sure, he spent time with the Spurs and that has undoubtedly helped him improve at his job. That organization is second to none in the NBA, and maybe all of sports. However, Layden's track record prior to his time in San Antonio leaves a lot to be desired.
With all of that said and despite the fact that I just spent the first few hundred words of this thing explaining why I'm concerned, the Thibodeau-Layden duo is slowly earning my trust with the acquisitions they have made this offseason. In addition to drafting two-time Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn, Minnesota has also signed role-playing veterans Cole Aldrich, Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill.
While I was admittedly skeptical of the Dunn selection right away, after watching some Summer League action I can understand why Thibodeau (especially) and Layden loved him. Ultra-competitive, gritty, defensive-minded and athletic are all traits Thibs looks for, and they all embody Dunn. Additionally, Dunn appears to have the versatility to play point guard or shooting guard and defend either position with that alien-like 6'9" wingspan.
During free agency, the front office duo maintained a pretty "Layden" back (pun totally intended) approach. Understanding that Minnesota still isn't an extremely attractive free agent destination and that the team will need to make sure it can retain potential superstars Towns and Wiggins in a few seasons, the duo sat back and waited for inexpensive yet reliable role players in Aldrich, Rush and Hill to become available.
Moreover, all three deals were pretty cheap. Aldrich signed for $22 million over three years, which is much cheaper than worse big man Timofey Mosgov's four-year, $64 million deal. Rush signed just a one-year deal for $3.5 million while Hill received just $8 million over two years. For perspective, the Wolves will pay Aldrich, Rush and Hill less this season than the Lakers will pay Mosgov.
I was almost 100 percent sure Thibodeau's desire to win now would end up risking the future in some way, whether it be overpaying for a free agent or trading a large package for a superstar. Heck, both of those almost happened when the Wolves reportedly showed interest in Joakim Noah (thank GOD that didn't happen) and a trade for Jimmy Butler.
To this point, Thibodeau and Layden have carried out Saunders' plan by carefully building the foundation for a championship team and hope among the fan base. Whether they continue to utilize this philosophy is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure.
So far, so good.