New Timberwolves Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson played for Tom Thibodeau when he coached five seasons in Chicago … and they’re willing to do it again.
Butler has called his formative NBA years with Thibodeau a “love-hate” relationship and Gibson isn’t one to quibble with the three-time All Star concerning Thibodeau’s gruff exterior and commitment to coaching every single possession, no matter the score or time remaining.
“Thibs understands I’m tough,” Gibson said. “He can throw anything at me, and I’m going to bulldoze right through it. Any kind of situation, any kind of perseverance, anything. He threw those things at me my second year in the league, and I’m not going to shy away from anything.”
Thibodeau was hired as Bulls coach in 2010 after Gibson’s rookie season and the two parted ways professionally when the Bulls fired Thibodeau in May 2015.
Now they’re reunited and Gibson acknowledged that sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“His shell is so hard, but once you finally break into his shell, he’s an awesome guy,” Gibson said. “My first year, two years, he played me a lot of minutes, but I never really talked to him. It was all X’s and O’s, but he really counted on me in tough situations. In practice, he always screamed at me, yelled at me and I never even reacted.
“But as years went on, we kind of grew a mutual respect and now when we talk, it’s like best friends almost. When we talk, it’s like a father that you see every day. It’s a great relationship.”
Newly signed point guard Jeff Teague hasn’t played for Thibodeau before, but his younger brother, Marquis, did in Chicago. Teague played against Thibodeau’s Bulls usually four times a season when Teague played for Atlanta.
“I know that voice from a mile away,” Teague said. “I’m excited. I want to be pushed, and no other coach in the league is going to push you like Thibs. My brother had an opportunity to play for him. He told me he’s going to be tough on you, but any kind of player wants a coach that’s going to be in your corner.”
Gibson and Thibodeau won a league-best 62 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals their first year together, but never won so much or went so far again. But Gibson, drafted 26th overall by the Bulls in 2009, has gone on to play eight NBA seasons and just signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Wolves.
“He really helped turn my career,” Gibson said. “He believed in me when a lot of people really didn’t. … A lot of things really jumped off the page to me, a lot of things that can really become something special here.”
• Teague credits eating right and strong core muscles for the kind of durability that has kept him healthy throughout his career. He has never played fewer than 70 games in a full season. “And I stopped dunking,” he said. “I was twisting ankles like that.”
• Early Vegas betting lines have placed the Wolves’ over-under for victories this coming season at 46.5 for a team that won 31 games last year.
• Teague on collaborating with new teammate Karl-Anthony Towns on high pick-and-roll plays, like he did with Al Horford in Atlanta:
“I expect it to work great and I expect it to be just as good as it was in Atlanta for me and Al. [Towns is] a really talented player who can do a lot of things on the floor.”
• C.J. Williams hit a runner in the lane in sudden death double overtime as the Timberwolves defeated Golden State 75-73 at the Las Vegas Summer League.