Tom Thibodeau

Rivers, Thibodeau expect smooth adjustment to Boston for Hayward

Rivers, Thibodeau expect smooth adjustment to Boston for Hayward

LAS VEGAS – When you listen to players and coaches whose careers have included a pitstop in Boston, they will collectively tell you the city loves its star athletes. 

And with that love comes expectations of greatness, the kind of greatness that only a select few ever achieve in this town. 

It takes a special kind of talent to weather the sometimes-tumultuous, stormy relationship between fans that comes with being a superstar athlete in Boston, something the newest soon-to-be Celtic Gordon Hayward will learn first-hand. 

Hayward, who agreed to a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics on the Fourth of July, has never been in a sports vacuum quite like the one he’s walking into. 

An NBA all-star, Hayward was not a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school in Indiana before ultimately signing with nearby Butler University coached by now-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. 

And when the Utah Jazz drafted him with the ninth overall pick in 2010, he evolved into a star for one of the league’s smaller market franchises. 

Ain’t nothing small about Boston other than its patience level when it comes to its stars.

Some players can handle that pressure with ease, like David Ortiz or Tom Brady. 

Others like David Price … not so much. 

So I asked a couple of NBA coaches (Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau) who have spent years coaching against Hayward who also have an intimate knowledge of the Boston sports scene, just how they saw Hayward adjusting to his new surroundings and with it, the increased amount of pressure to perform at the highest of levels. 

“He’ll handle that well,” said Rivers, president of basketball operations and head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers who spent nine seasons (2004-2013) as the Celtics’ head coach. “I think he’s really humble. His relationship with Brad (Stevens) will help as well, to channel that. You still have Isaiah (Thomas) there to take some of that pressure away. They’re going to be really good.”

Fandom aside, Hayward will ultimately be judged on his play which was on an all-star level this past season when he averaged 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, both career highs. 

And for those who have had to coach against him, seeing him head East is a welcomed reprieve. 

“He scores so many different ways,” said Thibodeau, president of basketball operations and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “You have to prepare for every situation.”

And even that’s not enough as Thibodeau’s Timberwolves lost three of four meetings against Hayward and the Jazz last season which included the 27-year-old dropping 39 points on Minnesota in late-April shortly before the playoffs. 

“He’s a great catch-and-shoot guy, moves well without the ball, very good off the dribble, very good in pick-and-rolls … he puts enormous pressure on the defense at all times,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant coach (2007-2010) who grew up in New England and attended Salem State just outside of Boston. “His versatility, that’s probably the biggest thing. And he’s unselfish.”

Thibodeau believes the qualities that he brings to the floor as a player will mesh well with the Celtics and the fan base which Thibodeau knows all too well, can be a tough crowd to please. 

“I think the way they (Celtics) play, who he is … I thought it was a great acquisition,” Thibodeau said. “He’ll fit in seamlessly.”

NBA Question of Day: Which new coach will make greatest impact?


NBA Question of Day: Which new coach will make greatest impact?

BOSTON -- Every NBA offseason has its all-too predictable coaching carousel that introduces us to a few new faces in the fall.

But this offseason saw more change than usual, with 10 new head coaches about to roam the sidelines for the 2016-17 season.

And most of these coaches inherited teams that struggled in some capacity, whether it was failing to make the playoffs or squeaking into the postseason only to endure an early exit.

Of the 10 new coaches, only three (Mike D’Antoni in Houston, Nate McMillan in Indiana and David Fizdale in Memphis) take over teams that were in the playoffs last season. But of those three teams, none were seeded higher than seventh in their respective conference playoffs.

Still, each man was hired for a variety of reasons . . . with the most obvious being to win more games than their predecessor.

Here we take a look at four new coaches who have the potential to make the greatest impact on their respective new teams.

Mike D’Antoni, Houston

Things will go really well, or they will totally be in the crapper with this hire.

That’s how it is with D’Antoni-coached teams.

 D’Antoni’s style of play went over well in Phoenix with Steve Nash leading the charge. Not only were the Suns fun to watch back then with Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, but they won a lot of games.

The Suns won 50 or more games in four straight seasons. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2005. Nash was a two-time league MVP (2005 and 2006).

And then he left for New York.

Four seasons with the Knicks produced one playoff appearance (2011) and too many headaches to recount. It was by all accounts, a disaster.

Clearly a glutton for punishment, D’Antoni found himself coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. That turned into a bigger train wreck than the one he had with the Knicks.

So while D’Antoni’s penchant for pushing the pace offensively does make for entertaining basketball most of the time, the Rockets seemed to have needed someone who is more of a defensive task master in order to get them to be more than just a team getting one of the last couple of playoff spots. Having a porous defense was one of the chief reasons ex-Celtics legend Kevin McHale was fired.

But many of the same arguments against D’Antoni’s system were alive and well in the early to mid-2000s when he was with the Phoenix Suns and they made deep playoff runs an annual tradition. So there is precedent for his style of play working at a high level.

But if it doesn’t, the Rockets will find themselves once again playing a season-long game of catch-up as they try to land one of the last playoff spots

Scott Brooks, Washington

Depending on who you ask or what you read, John Wall and Bradley Beal have issues.

How to handle that dynamic is one of the many reasons why hiring Scott Brooks was the right call for the Wizards. Having coached (or managed the egos, depending on how you want to spin it) Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City for eight seasons, Brooks knows as well as anyone how to get the best out of superstar talent and deal with all that comes with how to handle superstar players. Wall is a three-time all-star (2014-2016) while Beal is a blossoming talent that has been injury-plagued, but still showed enough potential for the Wizards to sign him to a five-year, $127.2 million deal in July.

But having been a role player in the NBA and an assistant on just about every level of play, Brooks has an innate understanding of how important the pieces around star players has to be. As good as Wall and Beal may be, he needs to get the most out of Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. as well as bigs like Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat. Having a good feel for how to handle both superstars in that respective role, and role players will go far in Brooks’ quest to get the Wizards back into the playoffs this season.

Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers

Walton is one of the three coaching newbies (Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn, Fizdale in Memphis) to have never been a head coach, although you have to put an asterisk next to Walton after filling in as the Warrior’s head coach while Steve Kerr to start the 2015-16 season.

Walton did more than help guide Golden State to a good start. He led them to the best start (24-0) in NBA history and passed the reigns back to Kerr with a 39-4 record, which was the second-best record all-time after the first 43 games played. He returns to a Lakers team that he spent 10 seasons playing for, having won titles in 2009 and 2010. But more than memories, Walton, now 36, brings a fresh face with a proven track record of success that’s undeniable. By no means are the Lakers now all of a sudden a powerhouse in the making because of Walton’s arrival. But considering who they have talent-wise now, it won’t be long before Walton will have the Lakers back into the postseason doing what the Lakers are used to doing . . . making deep, meaningful playoff runs.

Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota

This is by far the biggest wild-card team out West this season. While the Timberwolves on paper may seem too young to be of any playoff significance right now, having Thibodeau as the head coach and president of basketball operations, makes them a team that may come of age sooner than you think.

Each of the last two Rookie of the Year award winners played for the Timberwolves, a clear indication of how they stack up to their respective peers. But when you see Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns play, the potential for them is kind of scary if only they knew how to defend at a higher level. In comes Thibodeau who may be the best defensive mind in the NBA right now.

Throw in whatever Thibodeau tells you being barked/screamed/yelled by the living legend himself -- Kevin Garnett -- and it’s pretty obvious that the Timberwolves are going to be at worst a playoff contender in the West.

We hear all the time about how the NBA is a player’s league. That’s true, but coaches have to make sure players are put in the best positions to get the most out of their talent. The biggest challenge for Thibodeau will be balancing his front-office power with coaching a team that has more than just talent but the kind of talent that thrives in his style of play. The Timberwolves will be one of the youngest teams in the league once again this season, but at least with Thibodeau they have a leader of the pack who will take them far and soon make them a legit power out West. 

Report: Timberwolves hire Thibodeau as coach, president


Report: Timberwolves hire Thibodeau as coach, president

MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves have hired former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to be the team's new coach and president of basketball operations, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not officially announced the decision.

Thibodeau was the most coveted coach on the market, and he's bringing his unparalleled intensity and hard-driving approach to a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2004. He won nearly 65 percent of his games in five seasons with the Bulls, but was fired after last season amid speculation of a rift with general manager Gar Forman.

Landing such a big-name coach was a startling development for a Wolves franchise that has the longest-running playoff drought in the NBA and has routinely had to settle for second, third or fourth choices when jobs opened up. But team owner Glen Taylor, armed with one of the most promising young rosters in the league, turned 75 on Wednesday and doesn't want to wait around any longer for the team to become a winner.

San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Scott Layden will accompany Thibodeau to Minnesota and serve as the Wolves' general manager and Thibodeau's right-hand man in the front office.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Thibodeau, who got his start in the NBA as an assistant for the expansion Timberwolves under Bill Musselman in 1989. He spent two years coaching the Timberwolves and often recalled those days fondly on return trips with the Bulls over the years.

The man they call Thibs is not the reflective kind. He's the ultimate grinder, a defensive mastermind that demands as much from his players as any coach in the league. He likely would have garnered interest from many of the teams looking for new coaches, including the Houston Rockets, but has decided to take over a team brimming with young talent.

He will replace Flip Saunders, who was both president and coach before his death just days before the season started. Sam Mitchell coached the season with an interim label and won 29 games, 13 more than they had the previous season.

The reasons for taking the job are more than just emotional for Thibodeau. Thanks in large part to the work of Saunders and GM Milt Newton, the Timberwolves boast one of the most promising young rosters in the league.

The foundation includes second-year forward Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 who won the Rookie of the Year award last season after being acquired from Cleveland in a trade for Kevin Love two summers ago. Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick last summer, is a shoo-in for this year's Rookie of the Year award and is considered by many in the league to be a top-20 player already.

The Wolves also have two-time slam dunk champion Zach LaVine, who emerged as a dynamic shooting guard capable of starting, veteran point guard Ricky Rubio, versatile big man Gorgui Dieng, scoring specialist Shabazz Muhammad and former Euroleague player of the year Nemanja Bjelica.

Add to that a shiny new practice facility that opened this season and renovations that are set to begin on the outdated Target Center this summer, and the Wolves job has suddenly and mind-blowingly become one of the most coveted in the league. Saunders died from complications of Hodgkin's lymphoma just days before the season started. Taylor elevated Mitchell to the head job and gave Newton final decision-making authority on the roster.

After a poor start to the season that included a stretch of 20 losses in 23 games, the Wolves started to show signs of progress in the second half.

Thibodeau was given both roles and will make the decision on whether to keep Newton in a supporting position.

Layden was the GM in New York when Thibodeau was an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy. Layden also served as GM in Utah during the Stockton-Malone days and will help the lifelong coach Thibodeau with the nuances and intricacies of the executive branch of the franchise.

Giving coaches final authority on the roster has become a bit of a trend in the NBA in recent seasons. Saunders had it and Stan Van Gundy demanded it from the Pistons in order to make the move from Florida to the Midwest. The Los Angeles Clippers gave Doc Rivers dual roles, as did the Atlanta Hawks with Mike Budenholzer after GM Danny Ferry was fired.