Tom Thibodeau is the most attractive coach on the open market. Which NBA team needs him the most? SI.com examines the potential suitors.
A year away from basketball has only made Tom Thibodeau more attractive as a hypothetical savior. At least once a week, a fan of a new team will declare something like, "Give this team to Thibs next year, and watch what happens..." It makes sense. Great coaches are more important than ever in the NBA, and Thibodeau's credentials are pretty much impeccable. It's more rational than dreaming about Kevin Durant or Ben Simmons swooping in and saving your franchise. The question is, what desperate NBA fanbase is the most desperate for Tom Thibodeau next year?
This is the Thibs Thirst Power Rankings. When I was putting this together, I thought about going to Urban Dictionary for a definition of "thirst", but it turns out that Wikipedia's definition actually works best to explain what's happening here:
"Thirst is the craving for fluids, resulting in the basic instinct of animals to drink. It is an essential mechanism involved in fluid balance. It arises from a lack of fluids or an increase in the concentration of certain osmolites, such as salt. If the water volume of the body falls below a certain threshold or the osmolite concentration becomes too high, the brain signals thirst."
Thibs Thirst is the craving for wins, resulting in the basic instinct of fans to dream. It is an essential mechanism involved in continuing to care. It arises from a lack of coaching or an increase in the concentration of dumb bulls––t, such as the Rockets. If the winning percentage of the team falls below a certain threshold or the dumb bulls––t concentration becomes too high, the brain signals Thibs thirst.
And yes, Thibs is generally pronounced "Tibs", but not today. Let's see who's thirstiest.
9. Phoenix Suns
Even with the tank moving full speed ahead, it's tough to shake games like Phoenix's loss by 34—thirty-four!—to the Hornets last week. It's dark in Phoenix. The Suns have been a disaster since October, and really, since last year's trade deadline. Earl Watson took over for Jeff Hornacek at the beginning of February, but Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe are hurt now, and even Devin Booker can only provide so much hope.
In any case, the Suns rank low here because even Suns fans know that Tom Thibodeau isn't coming to Phoenix to work for Robert Sarver. And that's healthy. If you don't get your hopes up, you can't be disappointed.
8. Sacramento Kings
On the Bill Simmons Podcast, Thibs did single out DeMarcus Cousins as the player he was most impressed with when he coached Team USA. That's a glimmer of hope. He also has a soft spot for Rajon Rondo dating back to his Boston days. More hope. And ... wait ... maybe this is recon for next year??
Karl is preparing to pass the torch??
It's all happening!
But ... No, Vivek and Vlade are still in charge, and it is not happening.
7. Brooklyn Nets
This section is tricky. First and foremost, I'm not sure how many Nets fans actually exist. The franchise mercifully cut ties with the people of New Jersey they'd been letting down for several decades, but now they're in Brooklyn, and it's pretty shocking how quickly they've turned into the same lost franchise we knew in the Meadowlands. It will likely be this way until at least 2020.
On the other hand ... If you can't draft anyone for three years, and nobody wants to sign with you, isn't a great coach the only thing left to dream about? Why not overpay for a coach who can overachieve and possibly make basketball fun for the first time in Barclays Center history? If the Knicks and Lakers go in a different direction, there's a good chance that the Nets can offer the best combination of money and lifestyle (Brooklyn! New York City! Use of Mikhail Prokhorov's European villas!) of anyone on this list.
Of course, there's an alternate scenario to imagine in which the Nets bring in Thibodeau, and his suffocating intensity on a daily basis is the only way the current situation becomes more miserable. Imagine a team enduring a year of back–breaking practices and extra film sessions just to grind out 35 wins with Donald Sloan. Maybe that's not the best way to build a culture for the future.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minneosta fans will take anyone at this point. Over the weekend, a friend who's been a Wolves fan his entire life sent me this tweet:
And he said: "If you know anyone in the Wolves front office, please tell them that they're terrible and they should feel terrible and they've ruined my weekend."
Sam Mitchell seems like a wonderful person and a real ambassador for the game. That's not be taken lightly, and there's real value in that for any team. He should be added to the Wolves front office as a mentor for players going forward. He should not be coaching the most promising young team in the NBA. But does that mean Thibs should?
This team needs innovation on offense to help get the most of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl–Anthony Towns, and free-flowing offense has never really been a cornerstone of the Thibs experience. Just as important: if starting Tayshaun Prince over Zach LaVine has been frustrating, playing Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns 45 minutes-a-night might not be a better solution.
Thibodeau would be a massive upgrade in Minnesota, no question. But if I were a Wolves fan, I'd be pulling for someone slightly more balanced, with the potential to grow with this team from the lottery to the NBA Finals. For example ...
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Dave Joeger! He's done a very good job in Memphis, but every few months there's a new rumor that he'll be fired. The management dynamics with the Grizzlies may not be more than a step or two removed from Sacramento. So let's say the Grizzlies tail off at the end of the season, things get crazy, and Joeger goes back to his home state of Minnesota to coach the Wolves. At that point ...
Grit 'n grind 'n Thibs
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Now we're getting to the heart of the list. The Lakers could go after Scott Brooks this summer. They could go after Luke Walton. They could get the No. 1 pick. They could steal Kevin Durant, they could sign Hassan Whiteside, they could trade D'Angelo Russell. There are so many different options on the board. Really, bringing back Byron Scott is the only option that has to be taken off the board, because the franchise would have to seized by the government in that scenario.
But stop joking about the Lakers for a minute. It's possible that the past few years have all been a brilliant, stealth tanking job to achieve five objectives: 1) keep lottery picks and build for the future, 2) embarrass Jim Buss into ceding control to his sister, Jeanie, and 3) do right by Kobe, while also 4) showing other stars that they'll be taken care of, and 5) continuing to generate a ton of revenue throughout the tanking years.
That reading of events probably gives the Lakers too much credit, but at the same time, it's closer to what's actually happened than "the Lakers are the dumbest team in the league now." This has been a putrid few years at Staples Center, but there's a chance we will look back and call these years shockingly productive.
With that said, here is the case for adding Thibs: He's the best way to give this organization instant credibility and put a definitive end to the era we've all just witnessed. Walton and Brooks are two good options, but they each come with their own set of questions. Thibs announces to the whole world that the Lakers are done screwing around.
Whatever happens in free agency, whatever happens in the draft, hiring Thibs adds the stability and competence the Lakers have sorely lacked for several years. L.A. fans are the the thirstiest fans in the league, in general, but if anything, people in L.A. aren't dreaming about this enough.
3. Houston Rockets
I don't know how much Rockets fans actually want this to happen, but if they're currently longing for Thibodeau, it's only because this year's team has broken their soul. In any case, it's time for a new day in Houston.
Moreyball has been shockingly effective until this season, but now that it has all come crumbling down, it will take a real coach to build this team into contenders again. Dwight Howard will probably leave this summer, but that clears the way for Clint Capela to enter the starting lineup. The talent is still there, particularly if Morey can add a few role players this summer. James Harden is still essentially unstoppable in the halfcourt. Wouldn't Tom Thibodeau be the perfect coach to build this team into a contender again? Imagine the Bulls from the past few years, but with Harden closing games out every night. That's basically what the Rockets were last year; with Thibs, they can be that team again.
Bonus points are awarded here because forcing James Harden and Tom Thibodeau to coexist for 12–36 months is a grand social experiment that we should all support.
2. Washington Wizards
Please. Come on.
It doesn't matter that a year with Thibs in D.C. might put Bradley Beal into a coma. Beal might actually suffer a stress fracture just reading this section. But sacrifices have to be made.
Imagine the dysfunction discussed in the Lakers section, but instead of three disappointing seasons, it's been 35. Just once, I want my favorite team to hire the best coach available and see what happens. That is not what Washington's had for the past few years. Look at the end on Saturday.
Thibodeau is not without flaws, but whatever his shortcomings, he's the type of coach whose exhaustive approach will look to exploit single advantage throughout a game, and he can get the most out of his rotation. That is not what Washington's had for the past few years. Thibs probably wouldn't bring a title to D.C., but at the very least, he'd bring regular seasons that don't lead fans to an existential crisis every February.
Do it, Wizards. Fans are thirsty. Give Tom Thibodeau $40 million, let him be an assistant for the Capitals, too. Whatever it takes.
1. New York Knicks
Any thirst power rankings that don't feature the Knicks or Lakers on top cannot be trusted. In this case, Knicks fans win out.
First of all, it's hard to imagine a better fit than Thibs building a defense around Kristaps Porzingis. Second, New York has the money to pay him whatever he wants, and he grew up in Connecticut, so there are roots in the area. It makes a lot of sense.
He could mitigate Carmelo Anthony's limitations, he'd get the most out of the overmatched roster surrounding them, and this could all get fun again. He was a Knicks assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, and Madison Square Garden hasn't seen that kind of success since. Now, it's time for the return. This should be perfect. This should be easy.
Will Phil Jackson hire a coach who doesn't run a triangle? Maybe not. Maybe he'll go with a hand-picked veteran who knows his system and will try to bring it to New York.
But then, that's why Knicks fans beat everyone here. Imagine you had a choice between watching Thibs come in and turn Porzingis into a God, or four years of watching someone like Brian Shaw and trying to convince yourself the triangle offense doesn't suck. You'd be thirsty, too.