On Thursday, the New York Knicks announced the hiring of former Bulls and Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau to the same role.
“Today, with the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, we take the next step in building a strong organization to deliver you winning basketball,” said Knicks president Leon Rose, who represented Thibodeau while he was an agent.
Thibodeau becomes the 31st head coach in Knicks history and the sixth head coach since the firing of Mike Woodson, who was the last man to lead the team to the playoffs.
“Today marks another major step for our franchise to building a winning culture here in New York. I am personally excited and look forward to working closely with Tom and his staff as we look to make the Knicks a winning team again,” said Knicks general manager Scott Perry.
Thibodeau’s head coaching record is 352-246 over eight seasons. His .589 winning percentage is currently 11th in NBA history among coaches with a minimum of 500 games on the sideline. He was also awarded Coach of the Year for the 2010-2011 season in which he led the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record in his first season as their leader. The Bulls ended that season as conference finalists and saw Derrick Rose dazzle as he became the first Bulls player to win the MVP Award since Michael Jordan in 1998. Rose also became the youngest player to win the award in the history of the league that year.
In his five seasons in Chicago, the lowest amount of wins in a season for the Bulls was 45. The last time the Knicks won 45 games or more in a season was seven years ago.
After his time in Chicago, he spent time in Minneapolis as the Timberwolves’ head coach. After a tough first year that saw Minnesota go 31-51, Thibodeau was able to flip that to a 47-35 record in his second season. The Timberwolves made the playoffs that year, ending a 13-year drought, which was the longest streak at that time without a playoff appearance in the league.
“This is a very exciting day for our franchise. We’ve hired not only a great basketball coach, but an elite Head Coach in Tom Thibodeau,” said Leon Rose.
Thibodeau returns to Madison Square Garden after being an assistant from 1996-2003 under Jeff Van Gundy and Don Chaney. During his tenure as assistant coach, the Knicks made that magical run in 1999 that saw them become the first eighth seed to make the NBA Finals.
“I’m very excited today to be here, this is a dream come true for me. This is my dream job. I think we have the best city in the world, we have the best arena in the world, and we have the best fans in the world,” said Thibodeau.
Thibodeau won the job after a reported 11-man list that included former Nets head coach and Knicks assistant coach Kenny Atinkson and the aforementioned Mike Woodson. Some even floated the name of former Warriors head coach and former Knick Mark Jackson.
“Tom Thibodeau is a brilliant basketball mind that I’ve been around for quite a long time. He’s a guy that eats, sleeps and drinks basketball,” said Jackson, who is currently a color commentator for NBA on ESPN. “He will establish a culture, a culture of hard work, discipline and a defensive mentality.”
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the agreement between Thibodeau and the Knicks is a five-year deal.
“I grew up a Knick fan, there was no better place to be than Madison Square Garden. I love challenges, I love the city, the arena, the fans, and I’m excited about the team, I can’t wait to get going,” said Thibodeau, a native of New Britain, Connecticut, which is approximately 114 miles from Madison Square Garden.
Many Knicks fans will be eager and perhaps wary to see how Thibodeau bodes with RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, the two young stars the franchise hopes will become the future of this team.
“Based on film, I really think RJ (Barrett) has a very bright future as does Mitchell Robinson. Those are two who stand out. But we have a lot of young talent. I don’t like to make qualifications on people until I get around them,” said Thibodeau.
Another couple of players that fans are still left wondering about their potential and hope Thibodeau can help blossom are Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox.
“With Frank (Ntilikina) and Kevin (Knox), they’re both young guys that have talent. That being said, I’m not making any real observations until I get to be around them. Like most young players, there are growing pains you go through and there’s steps players have to take,” said Thibodeau. “Sometimes we measure guys against guys who are already established and you forget the steps those guys have to take to get to where they are. It’s an important part of it. Understand how you get there is work, sacrifice and commitment. One’s determination and perseverance is critical to their development.”
How does Thibodeau plan on making sure Barrett, Robinson, Ntilikina and Knox go above and beyond the potential the franchise saw on draft day?
“You want to set up your development plan in the summer and it carries over into the season. So, you have pre-practice and of course, practice is part of development as well and then post practice, but I think gametime is important also,” said the Knicks head coach. “So, for young players not getting the appropriate amount of time to develop, we’ll utilize the G-League. I think that’s become a big part of our league and we’ll certainly take advantage of that.”
According to Perry, the team has been in communication with the league and the NBPA as to what the non-bubble teams can do with their players in this COVID-19 era. Perry hopes that Thibodeau and his players could get together at some point this month.
There are many things to consider about the hiring of Thibodeau. You think about the positives, the Knicks are desperate to turn things around and given his track record, he can surely lead the Knicks to the playoffs again. Personally, I think some would be overjoyed with just battling for the eighth seed. Fans should be eager to see progress like that. This team isn’t winning the east next season. Just try to be patient.
Then, you think of the negatives. Many say Thibodeau ruined the career of Derrick Rose, playing him ridiculous amounts of minutes, which led to the knees of Rose becoming glass. Some think of the team in Minnesota that had Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. It was a rough first year, a decent second year, and a rough start to a third season in Minnesota during Thibodeau’s time there. Some think about Thibodeau tiring out Barrett and his knees, or Robinson and his knees. Some think about the cap space the Knicks will have in the future and believe that the gelling of the current young stars on the team and future free agents not developing into what fans expect.
Only time will tell. This hiring of Thibodeau wasn’t my first or second choice, but fans must have faith in Leon Rose. Knicks fans must continue to be patient, even though Knicks fans ran out of patience long ago. The NBA Draft will be the first litmus test for Rose and Thibodeau. Hopefully, they find a way to draft the player many Knicks fans want.