Since the Knicks hired Leon Rose as president of basketball operations, there have been rumors swirling over who the next head coach of the team will be. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy, Kenny Atkinson and interim head coach Mike Miller have all been suggested as candidates, but nobody has been linked more often — nor more vociferously — than Tom Thibodeau.
The indefatigable Thibs was seen as a rising star in the head coaching ranks following his six-season run in Chicago, but he lost much of that luster after a two-and-a-half year run in Minnesota. In the Windy City, his obsession with basketball and seemingly nothing else earned him plaudits and acclaim as the Bulls overcame injuries (and a front office more concerned with preserving their jobs than actually doing it well) to consistently exceed expectations. That same obsessiveness and maniacal metronomic energy was viewed much less positively in Minnesota where the wins didn’t flow as freely.
Nevertheless, there is still interest in Thibs. His connection with Rose, his former agent, and coaching roots in New York as an assistant coach under JVG during the ’90s, has seen him often mooted as the top or preferred candidate to become the Knicks’ next head coach. And, for a while, it seemed that there wasn’t much interest coming from outside of the Knicksverse — that is until earlier this week, when Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that there were other suitors circling.
The Post reported in February that Thibodeau would be on Leon Rose’s short list and looked to be a favorite if the new team president chose not to bring back Mike Miller as head coach.
While his reputation took a hit with the failure in bringing Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and allegedly mishandling young talent, sources told The Post the Nets and Houston will have strong interest, too. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni will be a free agent.
It appears Thibodeau would have interest in all three jobs. But the Knicks would get first crack at their former assistant coach since they won’t be competing in any potential playoffs.
After it had appeared the Knicks had a free run of sorts to get their man, it seems they’ll now have some stiff competition in Brooklyn and Houston. Now, you may believe this is just Berman carrying water for the Knicks, so that if/when they do hire Thibs they can use this to validate their choice and parade about how they outmaneuvered rival suitors to lure him.
You may be right, but this isn’t about that. This is about how this report sets the table for the Stephon Bundys and Howard the Becks of the world to portray any outcome as a loss for the Knicks. If you’re asking how that’s possible, well, I’m here to help with some mock newspaper clippings.
Cleared for takeoff: Rockets leave Knicks’ Thibs dreams on the launchpad
After parting ways with Mike D’Antoni following a six-game series loss in the second round to the Lakers, GM Daryl Morey has tabbed Tom Thibodeau as the next head coach of the Rockets. After years of playoff disappointment on the court despite having defeated every playoff opponent by expected value of every field goal attempt based on shot location — 100% correctly calculated by the franchise’s proprietary software — Morey felt it was time for a change.
Thibs’ long-documented “fuck your calculator, nerds” philosophy, is the necessary change Morey feels the organization needs to get over the hump against the imperfect, unbalanced math equations posed by Western Conference rivals like the Warriors, Lakers, and Clippers. Morey is demonstrating a willingness to adapt his approach, with a coach who will empower James Harden to take the wide-open mid-range jumpers teams willingly concede to him every year in the playoffs while triple teaming him beyond the arc and at the rim. Thibs will also be expected to inspire and instill a defensive work ethic in Harden and Russell Westbrook that has been lacking.
Another reason Thibs was so attractive to the organization was his willingness to work pro bono during his first season. With a year remaining on a lucrative contract with the Timberwolves, Thibs won’t officially be employed as a coach by the organization until the start of the 2021-22 campaign, even though he will be the one barking “ICE” from the bench with the voice of a chain smoking seal. This was said to be a pre-requisite for any prospective head coach during their first season, as Rockets owner Tilman Fertita struggles for liquidity in his various businesses.
In landing Thibs, Morey has once again outsmarted and outmaneuvered the beleaguered Knicks, who miss out on their top head coaching candidate. Eight years after robbing New York of Linsanity, Morey has done it again, snatching Thibsanity from under their noses. While the Knicks continue to search for a head coach who can restore respectability to the organization while elevating the modernity of their approach, Morey has take one step back on the shot chart, but two steps forward when it comes to winning when it counts.
Thibodeau spurns Knicks for Brooklyn
Clean sweep! Again!
After swooping in to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, long mooted as Knicks-in-waiting last summer, Sean Marks did it again to his crosstown rivals. Following months of endless media reports and speculation partially driven by me — a national reporter, a real big-shot who you should always trust, the guy writing this — the Nets gazumped the Knicks yet again, signing Thibs to a three-year, $30 million deal, equal to the amount of years and money left on DeAndre Jordan’s BFFL contract.
The real story here though, as always, is the Knicks’ failure to land their top target. Thibs had quite clearly been at the top of their desired coaching list since Leon Rose took charge. An embarrassing day for the organization, quite frankly. A day which will live in infamy, and which must serve as a wake-up call.
While it is now certain that Thibs will be turning Durant and Irving’s knees into cocaine powder, the Knicks remain gutted and rudderless. With no head coach as of yet, an Ari Gold super-agent wannabe masquerading as a lead basketball executive and the Kazoo King behind it all, there is no shortage of embarrassment and blame to go around.
Perhaps the most humiliating aspect of this gut punch are the reports coming out that it wasn’t the Nets’ superior star power, nor their ability to win now versus taking over the Knicks’ rebuild, nor the benevolence of Comrade Joe Tsai, nor even the ever-increasing, but still bottom-10 in the league attendance that proved to be the deciding factor for Thibs. Even with all of that in the Nets’ favor, Thibs’ heart wanted to coach Frank Ntilikina 47 minutes a night until his groin fell off. What ultimately swung it for the Nets, was the location of the Knicks’ practice facility in Tarrytown.
Let that stew, Knicks fans. Nothing matters and nothing will change until James Dolan sells the team or moves the practice facility within the five boroughs. Until then, you can take solace in playing at the World’s Most Famous Arena, but the real stars play in Brooklyn now.
Where Brooklyn at?
Knicks choose Thibodeau and prove they’re living in the past
Well, the Knicks got their man, but you have to wonder if once again it’s the right guy at the wrong time. Yesterday, the Knicks made it official, signing Tom Thibodeau to a reported seven-year, $175 million max contract, per my sources and nobody else’s.
While the money won’t impact the Knicks’ cap flexibility and ability to build a team, Thibodeau’s neanderthal basketball philosophy certainly might. Sure, it was reported that modern, analytics-friendly, media savvy, intelligent organizations like the Rockets and Nets were interested in Thibs. If you believe that genius general managers like Daryl Morey and Sean Marks are hiring a basketball caveman, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
But, the Knicks got their man. They’ll win the headlines and the back pages, at least for a few days, and that’s really all that Dolan and his cronies care about.
This isn’t to completely knock Thibs. He’s won a lot of games in this league, and his defensive strategies are widely credited as the basis for much of what teams strive to do in the modern NBA. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.
Sure, under Thibs, Derrick Rose won an MVP, Joakim Noah won a DPOY and finished top-5 in MVP voting, Luol Deng became a two-time All-Star, Jimmy Butler transformed into a perennial All-Star and Karl Anthony-Towns made his first All-Star bid and only All-NBA team... but aside from that, is there anything about his record of development that stands out? Isn’t that what the Knicks, incapable of attracting headline stars with the power of their brand, need now more than ever? When you take away the good things Thibs has done, what has he even really done, you know?
Look, Thibs isn’t the worst option they could have chosen, but is he the best? What about Kenny Atkinson? He’s coached in the city very recently and understands what it takes to build a winner after leading the Nets to a magical 42-40 seventh seed that one time. What about a proven winner with New York roots who the entire city is clamoring for from their quarantined confines, like Mark Jackson?
That the Knicks didn’t hire either is a complete and utter travesty, just like when they passed on rising coaching star Tom Thibodeau when they had the chance in 2016. But that’s just what the Knicks specialize in, delivering on disappointment.