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Can Tom Thibodeau Fix the Knicks?


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It isn’t a true, bona fide NBA coaching search until Tom Thibodeau’s name gets thrown in the mix. Actually, scratch that. Before taking a look at Thibs, a team looking for a coach must take the obligatory big swing at John Calipari or Jay Wright. The Knicks already got through that part (spoiler alert: neither of them are coming, folks), so now they’ve made their way to Thibodeau. According to multiple reports, the Knicks and Thibodeau appear to be flirting with each other as the franchise looks for its next head coach following the firing of David Fizdale.

So, will Thibodeau be the first Knicks “savior” of the 2020s? On The Jump Wednesday, Brian Windhorst gave some credibility to the Knicks-Thibs rumors by underlining the close relationship between Thibs and his former agent Leon Rose, who was recently hired to run basketball operations for the Knicks. Last week, I wrote about how Rose’s connections and relationships make him an interesting front-office figure if he can leverage his relationships into convincing players (or, in this case, coaches) to sign in New York.

But should New York want Thibodeau? This isn’t to say Thibs isn’t a good coach, but history has told us that while he has been proved to be a defensive mastermind as an assistant, his interpersonal skills and ability to modernize are severely lacking. His last two stops haven’t reflected well on his abilities as a head coach. Thibs won more than 45 games in each season during his five-year tenure with the Bulls, but he never advanced past the Eastern Conference finals and earned a reputation for running players into the ground.

Likewise, the Timberwolves experiment, which put Thibs with young and inexperienced players, crashed and burned after two and a half seasons. Even if you put the Jimmy Butler practice blowup aside, Karl-Anthony Towns saying Thibodeau’s development style was “a slap in the face” is telling.

There’s a case to be made that Thibodeau’s “adult-in-the-room” style could be exactly what a young, inexperienced team like the Knicks needs. In fact, one could argue that given the mess they find themselves in, it is imperative the franchise finds a coach with a strong voice. Then again, we’ve seen plenty of evidence (hello, Jim Boylen) that today’s NBA players don’t always respond well to authoritative coaches. But there are things Thibs could theoretically help with: This is a franchise that has had one of the league’s ten worst defensive units for the past four seasons. Even defense feels like an advanced problem for a franchise this dysfunctional, though.

OK, we have to return here every time the Knicks are back in the news: The root of the Knicks’ problems in this era is owner James Dolan, and he’s not going anywhere. For years, changing coaches, presidents, and general managers have been mere aesthetic renovations to the franchise’s facade. As long as Dolan is around, it will take an exceptional stroke of luck to turn the team around.

But to the Knicks’ credit, it appears the franchise is at least trying to get new voices into Madison Square Garden. A report in the New York Daily News points to Allan Houston—the current GM of the Knicks’ G League affiliate—as a candidate for a promotion to Rose’s front office. Why not? The Knicks may as well be a G League team at this point.

With so much in flux, the plan to reboot the Knicks for the umpteenth time is murky. The Knicks reportedly tried to hire Rich Cho away from the Grizzlies to join the front office, but Cho appears to prefer staying in Memphis, where a rebuild is actually working. It’s evident the Knicks need a new GM, but it seems they haven’t decided what to do with current GM Scott Perry. Meanwhile, Rose has already started to box out figures of the previous regime such as vice president of player development Craig Robinson, whose responsibilities were reportedly cut. It’s notable, too, that even though initial reports after the Rose hire indicated shadow NBA power broker William Wesley (a.k.a. World Wide Wes) was set to join Rose and the Knicks, it appears now he’ll just be an “influential voice” without an official job with the organization.

On top of all this, we can’t forget that Thibodeau demanded front-office power in his last deal with the Wolves. It will be fascinating to see who is actually granted power within the organization. Whether the Knicks hire Thibs or not, someone will need to explain to me how any of this will work.