The Minnesota Timberwolves expected much more out of this season.
But the drama surrounding Jimmy Butler before his Nov. 12 trade to Philadelphia, and dropping six of seven games during one stretch in December, eventually cost coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau his job.
Thibodeau was fired Sunday after the Timberwolves blew out the Los Angeles Lakers at home for their second consecutive victory.
Minnesota (19-21) will have its first chance to move on from the three-year Thibodeau era when the Timberwolves play at the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-14) on Tuesday night.
No player was more shocked about Thibodeau’s firing than Derrick Rose, who was with the Chicago Bulls for the entirety of Thibodeau’s five-year run there and who has resurrected his career in Minnesota under Thibodeau.
“I was basically out of the league,” Rose told reporters, adding that he was shocked and hurt by the dismissal. “Even coming here, everybody didn’t know I was going to play this way. He believed in me.”
Rose has missed the past five games and is questionable for Tuesday’s game with an ankle injury. He had some questionable words for those who thought his comeback might be undone by the firing.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself. Thibs was just the coach that believed in me. He jump-started my career again and for that I’ll always be thankful, but for everybody that thinks that it’s going to stop, kill yourself.”
Rose later apologized for his language, writing on Twitter that, “I did not mean it literally and regret using it so I apologize.”
With Thibodeau gone, the Timberwolves will move on with 32-year-old Ryan Saunders as the interim coach.
Saunders’ late father, Flip, had two stints as Minnesota’s coach.
Although Timberwolves management said the rest of the season would be a trial for Saunders’ consideration for the permanent job, Saunders said he wasn’t looking at it that way.
“If you look at something as a tryout, that’s when you start putting pressure on yourself or the situation or other people that isn’t there,” Saunders said.
The Thunder are trying to bounce back from a disappointing 116-98 home loss to Washington on Sunday, when Oklahoma City was dominated on the boards and its defense – which has been the team’s strength this season – sagged.
Minnesota won the first meeting between the teams, Dec. 23 in Oklahoma City, forcing the Thunder into 27 fouls.
“We’re at our best when we rebound because it allows us to get out in transition and get out on the fast break,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
“It’s the same thing with fouling. If we’re fouling, it’s obviously slowing the game, it’s having teams shoot free throws and it’s taking away our strength of being able to play in transition.
“The rebounding and the fouling are going to be critical, and with their size and their length and how physical they are across the frontcourt, their ability to offensive rebound and their ability to generate free throws are going to be important.”
Thunder guard Alex Abrines is expected to miss his eighth consecutive game. Abrines, who is averaging nearly 20 minutes per game, was initially injured but has missed the past few games due to personal reasons.
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