Though some fans will be distraught if the Knicks’ coaching search ends with the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, the truth is that Thibs got his start in New York, has a strong track record, and is considered one of the hardest workers in basketball.
Leon Rose has been quietly reshaping the front office since he took over the Knicks in March, but it’s no secret that his biggest primary decision is hiring a head coach. Rose seems to understand the weight of that responsibility, as the Knicks have interviewed an entire basketball roster’s worth of candidates, from Kenny Atkinson to Jason Kidd.
Thibs has been the presumed front runner for awhile, and at this point it would be surprising if he didn’t get the nod. The coaching search is supposedly winding down, so an announcement could come sooner than you think.
Hiring Thibodeau wouldn’t be a repeat of mistakes from the recent past. In fact, it might be the right decision. Here’s why:
He Has A History With The Knicks
It would be silly to disregard how motivated Thibs will be to produce a winner in New York. He was an assistant coach with the Knicks for seven seasons between 1996 and 2004, which means Thibs was there when the team improbably made the 1999-00 finals.
He watched Allan Houston’s runner drop softly into the net to beat the Miami Heat. He witnessed Madison Square Garden erupt when Larry Johnson nailed that four-point play against the Indiana Pacers. He knows what it’s like to be part of the home team at MSG when times are good.
His ex-boss, former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy, recently showered Thibs with praise and rebutted the idea that he only cares about defense and being grumpy.
“Tom Thibodeau is a great, great basketball coach – like, great,’’ Van Gundy said on SiriusXM radio. “And I think unfortunately for him the perception of him on the sidelines as this gruff, nasty dude is not even close to who is he personally. Like, he is a great guy. He’s fun to be around. He’s enjoyable to be around, and he loves basketball. He loves NBA basketball and he works at it and he is elite in his profession.”
He’s An Experienced Winner
Thibodeau’s stock dropped after he failed to create a competitor in Minnesota, but his .475 winning percentage with the Timberwolves is much better than each of the last five Knicks coaches. In an interesting twist, Mike Woodson is the most recent Knicks coach to post a higher winning percentage at .580. Overall, Thibodeau boasts a better career winning percentage, beating Woody .589 to .463.
Thibodeau’s Bulls were a force of nature, and while Derrick Rose was obviously a driving force on the offensive end, the impact of Thibs cannot be discounted. Many players made careers out of being part of Thibodeau’s Bulls: Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to name a few, and Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Kirk Hinrich to name a few more.
The Bulls won nine playoff games in Thibodeau’s first season at the helm in 2010-11 before being eliminated in the Eastern Conference FInals by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. The Knicks have won nine total postseason games since making the ‘99 finals.
All in all, over the last decade Thibodeau has coached in 56 playoff games and been out of the first round three times, including that Eastern Conference Finals appearance against the Heat’s Big Three. The Knicks have appeared in 21 total playoff games over the same time period and only got out of the first round once.
He’ll Try His Darndest
An inability to find stability at the coaching position has plagued the Knicks for many years now, and Thibodeau will surely want to be the one who breaks the cycle. He’s been “poring over Knicks game film as he awaits a possible job offer,” according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.
There are those who worry that he overworks his players and is an antique from the time period just before the three-point explosion, but Thibs has displayed an awareness of the game’s evolution.
“The game never stays the game — it’s always evolving,’’ Thibodeau said. “What wins still goes back to who you are as a player and what you do well. If you’re a great 3-point shooter, you try to get as many of those shots as you can. If you’re a good driver, get in the restricted area.”
Further, Thibodeau seems like the kind of guy who might appreciate what Frank Ntilikina brings to the floor, even on nights the Frenchman can’t buy a bucket. And goodness gracious, a defense in this era centered around the never-ending reach of Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson is tantalizing. Meanwhile, R.J. Barrett could surely benefit from one of the best defensive minds in modern memory.
As for the negative perception of Thibs that has continued to linger in the ether, current Knick and former Bull Taj Gibson says phooey.
“There was misperception,’’ Gibson said. “He wanted to win. He’s just trying to make guys better players. Some people take it as being hard. He’s going to push you. He always wants the best out of you. It was easy for me to learn early in my career. He had a bunch of guys in Chicago willing to learn, willing to listen in Chicago. They were young guys who really wanted to listen.