The New York Knicks have found their future head coach, and his name is Tom Thibodeau.
As the team moves on from interim coach Mike Miller, Thibodeau is finalizing a five-year contract to become the new head coach of the New York Knicks. A former assistant for the Knicks from 1996 to 2004, Thibodeau was a part of the coaching staff that led the team to their last finals appearance in 1999. Having won over 58% of his games as a head coach for the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thibodeau has proven he can lead teams to the playoffs, making it six out of nine times.
Finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 21-45 record, the Knicks haven’t had a winning record or made the playoffs since the 2012-13 season. With 20-year-old RJ Barrett, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, along with 20-year-old Kevin Knocks and 22-year-old Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks have a very young core, with no one on their roster over 30 except Taj Gibson. Julius Randle led the way last season, averaging 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds, as the Knicks finished near the bottom in both offensive and defensive rating. The Knicks’ defense should improve with the Thibodeau hire, as in four out of Thibodeau’s nine seasons as head coach, his team finished in the top 10 in defensive rating.
Thibodeau will definitely change the culture of the Knicks, but he needs time. Since the 2014-15 season, the Knicks have had five different head coaches. In order to make significant changes, the team has to keep him for at least two years. Otherwise, the Knicks will continue to define mediocrity as they have for the past 20 years.
Hiring Thibodeau also definitely improves their chances of getting star free agents, as the Knicks lost out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last offseason — with both going to the Nets. However, with free agents such as Giannis Antetokounmpo next year, having Thibodeau will establish a formidable plan for assembling the Knicks’ future roster.
The amount of power Thibodeau will have to make player personnel decisions is unclear with James Dolan as the Knicks’ owner. When Thibodeau was in Minnesota, he was the president of basketball operations and head coach, so he brought in former Bulls veterans like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose. With Gibson already on the Knicks roster, his veteran presence will be key in implementing Thibodeau’s style of play. Regardless, many Knicks fans will argue that James Dolan has been the Achilles heel for the Knicks ever since he acquired the team in 1999. Ironically, this was the last year that the Knicks made the NBA Finals under Jeff Van Gundy. Under Dolan, Isiah Thomas was brought in as president of basketball operations in 2003, and after many changes, he hired Phil Jackson in 2014 with the hopes of making the Knicks a title contender. However, this move didn’t pan out. From trading for Eddy Curry to giving Joakim Noah a four-year, $72-million deal, to recently trading Kristaps Porzingis and having legend Charles Oakley arrested, Dolan has been a questionable owner who has only won one playoff series. By signing Thibodeau to a five-year deal, hopefully Dolan keeps him around long enough to make a difference.
Leon Rose, a former sports agent and the new president of the Knicks, is hopeful that Thibodeau will be able to turn the Knicks around.
“Tom Thibodeau is a proven winner who gets the most out of his players and teams that he has coached,” Rose said. “He will bring leadership, accountability and a hard-working mentality to our organization.”
When Thibodeau joined the Timberwolves, he returned the team to the playoffs after a 13-year absence. As an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, he won a championship in 2008. As head coach of the Knicks, he hopes to achieve both of those goals.
The Knicks seem to be heading in the right direction, as hiring Thibodeau and Rose will improve the team’s future long-term. Thibodeau is known to be a demanding coach who plays his starters for a lot of minutes. This rotation will be crucial to the development of the team led by RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.