To literally no one’s surprise, Luol Deng signed a one-year $2.4 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the changes Thibodeau has been making as head coach and president of the Timberwolves, Deng is the seventh former-Bull he’s signed. Seven is a lot. Like, a lot a lot. He’s turning the Timberwolves into the Timberbulls, but why?
Thibs has faced a lot of criticism, especially recently. One of his most criticized actions is the fact that he plays his starters more than any other team. Butler, Wiggins, Towns, Teague and Gibson (two out of these five are former Bulls, by the way) all average more than 33.5 minutes a game. There are teams in the league that don’t play any of their players this much, let alone five. LET ALONE THEIR DAMN STARTERS. Sure, it makes sense to play LeBron James with this kind of frequency. But Jeff Teague? Karl-Anthony Towns? A big man who, with insane minutes like this, could likely face an injury that may shorten his career? No.
Thibodeau certainly doesn’t have a great track record playing his stars this way. Derrick Rose, a former MVP, struggled constantly with injuries after being coached by Thibodeau. Zach LaVine had been consistently playing over 35 minutes a game when he tore his ACL. Do I even have to mention Joakim Noah?
Underdeveloped Young Talent
Both Butler and Gibson were imperative in this season’s semi-success (hey, they made it to the playoffs). Another of Thibs’ old players, Derrick Rose, performed well in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2004. The vets were important in the team’s season, though I’m not sure they served the purpose Thibs wanted them to. It seemed like Thibodeau wanted veteran players he’d coached before to show his young talent what’s up. Butler was reportedly frustrated with the attitudes of the younger players on the team, and declined to sign an extension with the team earlier this summer. Even with the guidance of veteran starters, the team’s young talent seemed to stay pretty stagnant.
Andrew Wiggins’ stats have nearly all taken a dip, though his 3-point percentage is still good. His defense hasn’t improved, which makes him a great liability. Wiggins can defend one-on-one, pretty well actually, but that’s about it. He doesn’t challenge shooters at the perimeter, nor is he comfortable taking the initiative to put himself in a rotating defense. He’s such a talented, athletic player, and I feel like Thibodeau should really be putting more of an emphasis on developing him. Especially with that f*cking contract. Towns’ defense improved slightly – perhaps a fire was lit under his ass seeing the older, Gibson’s, fantastic contributions to the team.
+ 1 More Former Bull
So what does the addition of Luol Deng mean? I don’t really know, to be completely honest with you. If you didn’t keep up with Deng’s season last year, you didn’t miss anything. Like, literally nothing at all. He played in the opening game for the Lakers and then was benched for the rest of the season. Deng has been quite vocal about the fact that it wasn’t his decision not to play for the entire season. He remained a part of the team and did as much as he could to stay in shape. In the locker room, he used his voice to encourage and build up his younger teammates, but being an inspirational voice wasn’t enough for him.
Going off what Thibodeau has already done in Minnesota, it’s a guarantee that Deng will see more minutes than he did in Los Angeles (though that’s not very hard). Deng is yet another player from the Chicago team Thibodeau coached in his glory days. Thibodeau also clearly favors playing his vets over his younger talent, with the exception of Towns and Wiggins. Jamal Crawford, who is 38 years old, averaged over 20 minutes a game while 22 year-old Tyus Jones played just over 13.4 minutes per game. Justin Patton, who was drafted 17th overall last year, barely played even when he wasn’t struggling with his foot injury.
So What’s The Goal?
I feel like Thibodeau is throwing a bit of a Hail Mary here. Am I using that correctly? Look, I write for this blog but that doesn’t mean I’m well-versed every sport, okay? He’s focused on winning now which kind of makes sense to me, as he’s about to begin the third year of a five-year contract. He doesn’t necessarily need to think long term as far as this team goes. He’s done a significant amount for them – coaching them to their first playoff appearance since 2004 and adding Jimmy Butler to the team. But Towns hasn’t signed a contract extension. Jimmy Butler didn’t sign his extension offer and very well may be a free agent at the end of this season. Wiggins is at a bit of a standstill, and Thibodeau isn’t making an effort to develop some of the new, young talent he’s got.
I think Thibodeau is trying to win the way he knows how to win. He had a system that worked for him in Chicago, with players that worked for him. I think he’s trying his best to recreate that with what he has now. While I understand that, I think it’s important to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. A system that worked for him in the past won’t necessarily work again. Players he previously coached may not (will not) play as they did 7 years ago.
Regardless of what happens, I’m excited to see what happens this season with this team. Just please, don’t sign Joakim Noah. Please.