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Tom Thibodeau and the power of who you know

The Knicks place a premium on relationships. It hasn’t really worked out for them.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

I was out of the house pretty much all Saturday, which means I missed one of the wildest days in recent New York sports history. The Mets and Yankees both lost, the Jets traded their best player, the Liberty debuted No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, and the Knicks finally got their man at the head of the bench.

That’s right: Tom Thibodeau is a Knick. He was anointed the front-runner months ago, and despite some scary Jason Kidd rumors, not much really changed, despite the front office interviewing 11 candidates. Team president Leon Rose reportedly admired the job Mike Miller did as an interim coach, but we all knew he probably never had a chance (even if he may wind up an assistant on Thibs’ staff). Young, up-and-coming coaches Will Hardy and Jamahl Mosley reportedly impressed in interviews, but they probably weren’t real candidates either.

When it comes to hiring a coach, the Knicks have traditionally relied on three criteria:

  1. Is the candidate high-profile enough that owner James Dolan already knows who he is?
  2. Can the candidate future free agents on the Knicks?
  3. Does the candidate have a close, long-term relationship with either Dolan or the current president?

Thibodeau clearly checks boxes one and three. Thibs has the name recognition as a former NBA Coach of the Year, though he won that award nine years ago. More importantly, he has a working relationship with Rose that stretches back more than a decade, as Rose represented him when he worked as an agent for CAA. Pretty much everyone who covers the Knicks stressed Thibodeau's relationship with Rose whenever pointing to Thibs as the front-runner.

I get it: The NBA is all about relationships. But there is a fine line between competent people hiring other competent people they know and pure cronyism, and the Knicks have never found the right side of that line. Steve Mills was hired as team president despite zero basketball front office experience — the hiring was allegedly pushed by Rose’s buddy and new Knicks VP William Wesley — and proceeded to hire half his old Princeton teammates. Phil Jackson hired his former player, Derek Fisher, despite zero head coaching experience, and kept pushing Kurt Rambis on the team despite his clear incompetence. The league had to step in to force Dolan to fire Isiah Thomas as team president. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

Thibs knew Rose, and now he has a five-year deal — a pretty astounding contract for a twice-fired coach when the Knicks didn’t have any clear competition for his services. Maybe Rose is so focused on building for the long-term that he wanted his head coach locked in past the next few years. Maybe Thibs is that good of a negotiator.

Leon Rose has really impressed me with his front office hires — he’s recruited bright minds from quality NBA organizations. This is the first time I’ve had any reason to criticize a hiring. And I don’t even dislike Thibodeau — I think he’ll be a competent coach, though I’m not sure he’s an upgrade from Miller. I’ve just seen the same story play out too many times in the Knicks’ front office.

Here’s hoping that the Knicks found the right person for the job. I’m unreasonably attached to the young trio of Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, so I’m praying that Tom Thibodeau has what it takes to mold this group into real NBA competitors. If not, I’m sure Rose and Wesley know some other guys who would like a job.