NBA

Knicks Players Won’t Like Tom Thibodeau, but They’ll Need Him

Multiple sources have reported that the New York Knicks and Tom Thibodeau are finalizing a five-year contract bringing him aboard as head coach of the NBA team. ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that sources indicated a signed agreement was imminent.

Thibodeau had been regarded as no worse than a co-favorite for the job almost from the moment his name surfaced. That should have given Knicks players time to prepare for a change in culture. Those not prepared to change will have no one to blame but themselves when training camp opens ahead of the next NBA season.

The New York Knicks are getting a veteran coach in Tom Thibodeau

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Presumptive New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, 62, has never lacked for steady work since graduating in 1981 from Division III Salem State, where he was a captain as a senior. He quickly moved his way up from assistant to head coach at his alma mater, spent four seasons on the staff at Harvard, and then began his NBA career as a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant in 1989.

Five more jobs as an assistant followed, including 1996-2004 with the New York Knicks. The Jeff Van Gundy protégé would be named head coach of the Chicago Bulls in 2010 and of the Timberwolves in 2016.

Thibodeau was 352-246 in five seasons with the Bulls and 2 ½ with the Timberwolves, but his postseason mark was just 24-32 and his teams only reached one conference championship series. He did steer Minnesota to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years in 2018, but he didn’t make it to the midpoint of the following season after his relationship with star player Jimmy Butler unraveled.

Tom Thibodeau is a details-driven coach

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Once terms are hammered out, Tom Thibodeau will inherit a New York Knicks team that went 21-24 this season, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year. Knicks president Leon Rose and executive VP William Wesley (a/k/a World Wide Wes) can’t offer Thibodeau much to work with in the way of player personnel that will turn the lethargic franchise on a dime.

But what the Knicks are getting is exactly what they need. Thibodeau has made his reputation as a coach with defense – though Jeff Van Gundy considers him highly underrated for his offense — and player development.

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players as well as hold everyone accountable and take us from development to becoming a perennial winner,” Rose said on the Knicks’ network recently.

“Hold everyone accountable” is a thinly disguised description of a taskmaster who will make his team run plays over and over in practice so that they get them right in games. That fits Thibodeau, described by Rick Pitino  last week as comparable to Bill Belichick when it comes to preparation.

The Knicks need his hard-driving style

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Tom Thibodeau’s other reputation is that of a coach who relies on his key veterans a bit too much. He won’t have that problem with the Knicks. R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson give New York some semblance of a foundation, but there is little in the way of older players who can help now in turning things around.

As noted by Newsday, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins were key Minnesota Timberwolves players who probably didn’t mind seeing Thibodeau go. Former Knicks coach and current NBA commentator Jeff Van Gundy says it’s their loss and not Thibodeau’s.

“I have never heard a winning player complain about Tom. Never. The other thing is we address — if the criticism came from Towns and Wiggins, they had their best years under him — not just as a team, but as individuals.”

Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy added one more jab:

“When winning players complain about you, you need to take stock as a coach or at least think about what they’re thinking,” he said. “When losing players complain about work ethic and demands, you take it with a grain of salt.”