Timberwolves outlast Bulls as both organizations sink in bad decisions
Whether it’s the “Thibs Bowl” or “Jimmy Palooza,” the Bulls and T-wolves will remain connected because of common bad moves.
MINNEAPOLIS — The “Thibs Bowl’’ or maybe “Jimmy Palooza’’ — the game Wednesday between the Timberwolves and Bulls needed to be called something. After all, “a good basketball game’’ definitely wouldn’t be accurate.
But that’s where these two franchises find themselves these days: spinning in mud in different conferences, linked together because of their mutual love for making bad organizational decisions.
It started with former coach Tom Thibodeau, who guided the Bulls back to relevance after the Michael Jordan era, only to be fired because he wouldn’t be an organizational puppet. The Timberwolves hired him and saw their junior-varsity franchise end a 13-year playoff drought under Thibodeau. But when losing is all you know, it’s the habit you fall back into.
Thibodeau was out, and in came 33-year-old Ryan Saunders, the son of former longtime Timberwolves coach/basketball operations executive Flip Saunders.
And just like that, it was back to life in the draft lottery.
Both organizations also thought they could move on from Jimmy Butler. All the All-Star did was take each team to the playoffs in consecutive years — the last time either team has sniffed the postseason, by the way.
The Bulls sent Butler to Minnesota in hopes of jump-starting this rebuild, getting back Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen.
It’s now Year 3 of the rebuild.
The Timberwolves then sent Butler to Philadelphia last season, deciding that long-term contracts for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were higher priorities than investing in an elite two-way player.
So, yes, there it was at the Target Center for all to see.
A 21-win Bulls team losing to a 19-win Timberwolves team 115-108.
“Yeah, I guess,’’ Bulls coach Jim Boylen said when asked if the organizations will remain linked until one of them can start to distinguish itself again. “Yeah, they had Jimmy here, and obviously we’ve got Lauri and Zach from that deal.’’
Coincidentally, Boylen and Saunders have some common ground, replacing coaches during the 2018-19 season and having few wins to show for it.
Saunders was asked about that, and he sounded like a guy hell-bent on focusing the attention on anything but his record.
“I never think about that on my end,’’ Saunders said. “It’s always been, and I’ve said this from Day 1, about daily growth.
‘‘If the record doesn’t match up to where you want it to be, you’ve got to stick to a process, too, on where you want to go if you want to have sustained success, and we feel very confident in what we’re doing.’’
The Bulls allowed them to feel confident. They were outrebounded 43-39 and allowed the T-wolves to shoot 44 percent from three-point range.
The usually positive-spinning Boylen was far from that after the game even though Lauri Markkanen was returning from injury after 15 games off and Otto Porter Jr. was playing in his second game after missing 17 weeks.
“I don’t care who’s been out, who is working on a minutes restriction, I didn’t think we were tough enough tonight, and I didn’t like it,’’ Boylen said.
He admitted to calling out his team as well as challenging his players.
“When you play your minutes, you need to play them with more physicality,’’ Boylen said. “I’m coaching my team, let me coach my team.’’
Veteran forward Thaddeus Young was asked about Boylen tearing into them and said the message was loud and clear.
“There are some instances where we could be tough; there are some instances where we are being tough,’’ Young said. “To me, the team is trying. We’re playing as hard as we can.’’