Tom Thibodeau, upon return to Target Center: 'It's great to be back.'

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Chris Hine, Star Tribune
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Tom Thibodeau was asked if Wednesday was the first time he was back in Target Center since the Timberwolves fired him in January 2019. Thibodeau approached a smile by his standards as he stated: ""There's a lot of arenas that I parted ways with."

Wednesday's game marked the first official time Thibodeau was back on the sideline as he took a year off before becoming Knicks coach this season. During that year, Thibodeau said he was still living in Minneapolis.

"I'm comfortable here," Thibodeau said. "I enjoyed my time here and it's great to be back."

Thibodeau did some reflecting on his tenure with the Wolves, and why things are clicking so much easier for him in New York in his first year (the Knicks were fifth in the East entering Wednesday) than with the Wolves when they were 31-51.

"I thought that team was really starting to calm when, unfortunately, Zach [LaVine] got injured," Thibodeau said. "But I thought there was great growth in that first year, and it really set the foundation for the next year."

The next year was the year Thibodeau helped break the Wolves' 14-year playoff drought with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler before Butler demanded a trade the following year, a move that eventually precipitated Thibodeau's firing.

When asked how he wanted Wolves fans to remember his tenure, Thibodeau said, "That's up to them, you'd have to ask them." But he carried fond memories of the playoff season.

"I know I have a lot of friendships from the time that I was here. I enjoyed it. I'm proud of what we accomplished," Thibodeau said. "It was a challenge. I thought Karl's [Karl-Anthony Towns'] growth was great, Wiggs [Andrew Wiggins], he grew, Zach grew, and then when we added the vets, they did a terrific job. …

"It was a loaded West that year. It wasn't easy, but it was a lot of fun. I remember the sellouts and I remember the playoffs."

Okogie closer to returnWolves guard Josh Okogie was upgraded to questionable coming into Wednesday's game, but he still sat out as he works his way back from COVID protocols. Wolves coach Chris Finch said he was hopeful Okogie would make the upcoming road trip to Memphis and Philadelphia.

Finch said Tuesday that D'Angelo Russell was able to practice in full but said he wouldn't expect Russell to be back within the next week. Russell has stayed behind in Minnesota when the team goes on the road to continue working on his rehabilitation from home.

Getting to know youWith all the COVID protocols in place, it has been a challenge for Finch to get to know the Wolves players outside of games or practice.

"We're not really supposed to be out in any other social environment," Finch said. "It'd be great to be able to go out and grab dinner, do these normal things where you can be in a different environment and more relaxed."

Finch did say on the team's recent flight back from New York he was able to spend a few minutes talking with Towns about baseball. Finch said he and Towns usually speak for 10 or 15 minutes before games, but those kinds of bonding moments on a team flight or dinner have been hard to come by.

"He may want to talk about basketball, I may want to talk about other things," Finch said. "We sat on the plane the other night for a little bit and talked baseball. He's a huge baseball fan with the start of the season on the horizon and trying to find these moments with all the players. Not just Karl, but all of them."