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What is the goal for this season?
Throughout a season stories and themes present themselves that define that season. We know the Knicks are a 41–45-win team, but are they a team on the rise or one that has reached its ceiling? As the Knicks approach the all-star break one of those stories on everyone’s mind is the future of head coach Tom Thibodeau. Usually, the fans start calling for the coach to be fired when the team has a losing record, but that is not the case in this situation.
A large contingent of the fanbase wants Thibodeau gone despite him being the most successful coach the Knicks have had since Jeff Van Gundy. They view him as a dinosaur that hasn’t kept up with the evolution of the game. Recently, on the Knicks/Heat post-game show, guest host Dexter Henry said that the Knicks look like they are running an offense from 2005.
While I was not in favor with the hiring of Thibodeau and don’t agree with a lot the things he has done, I have come around to realize that he was the best coach to change the culture. We as fans have a misconception of how easy it is to construct a contender. The national media only covers teams when they have ascended to contender status, but not the start of the journey 4-5 seasons prior.
In the article, Grading Leon Rose’s Job Part -1, I gave him an “A” for the hiring of Thibs. It was for this very reason. At the time the Knicks were a rudderless team with no identity or direction. For the better part of 20 years the franchise was focused on positioning itself to chase after star players that never came. In hindsight this was a misguided approach, instead they should have followed a blueprint similar to the Miami Heat’s. It’s a culture rooted in hard work, intelligence, and professionalism. Ironically it is the same culture of the Knick champion teams of the 1970s. Those teams are recognized as the gold standard for team play. During LeBron James’ peak, the only teams that were able to beat him were the ones that implemented this blueprint (team-play over superstar), San Antonio and Golden State.
Thibs is the best coach to get the Knicks to go from crawling to walking. But there is serious doubt that he can take them from walking to running due to his Iso-dominant offense. I don’t like to make comparisons since each situation is different, but I see the Knicks being in one similar to where the Warriors were when Mark Jackson was the coach. He was great for setting the culture and installing the great defense the Warriors still play to this day. But like Thibs, there was frustration with Jackson’s offense which was also highly Iso-focused. The Knicks talent level is not anywhere close to the Warriors, but even the average fan can see that team’s offensive potential is not being realized. Despite the offensive efficiency ranking, 9th overall, at end of games the shortcomings of Thibs’ offensive philosophy lay bare for everyone to see.
What to do with Thibs?
I have never dwelled on the topic of firing coaches. For one, you can’t say it’s a players’ league then think that coach is the main problem. Also, in the culture of professional sports, coaches are hired to be fired. On average head coaches are fired after 2.5 years, so why worry about something that is inevitable. Thibs is approaching the expiration date for coaches and he knows it. That is why he treats every game like it’s his last, because it very well could be.
But Leon Escobedo did mention something to Dexter in the postgame show I had not considered. Leon Rose is good friends with Thibodeau, so he is less incline to fire him. It would look really bad on Rose to fire his signature hire and good friend, so he will always side with Thibs until he is at risk to be fired, which would be too late.
While we can dream about who we would like to replace Thibs. Many fans would like Johnnie Bryant to succeed Thibs. I personally would love to have a coach like Ty Lue, a young innovative basketball mind, but I don’t see Steve Baumer and the Clippers letting him get away.
So, what can the Knicks do then? If Thibs keeps on “Thibbing” as J Ellis likes to say the fanbase will revolt next season. This is where the relationship between Leon and Thibs could be a good thing. Leon for the most part hasn’t meddled, but this is where he needs to.
Thibodeau is a great coach due to his attention to detail and dedication to the game. However, like all coaches he is not great at every aspect of the job. For one, his relationship with players that are not “his guys” can be counterproductive as he doesn’t possess the soft skills necessary to connect with today’s players like a Darvin Ham or Willy Green. So, he needs to be forced to empower Johnnie Bryant if he is still on the staff next season. Also like J Ellis and I have suggested before, Thibs needs to hire an offensive coordinator and take more input from his assistants, especially during the game.
Ruling with an iron fist in an environment where he is surrounded by a bunch of “yes men” like was suggested in the story about Cam Reddish, needs to stop. Despite being highly respected Thibs knows he is fortunate to have gotten the Knicks’ job. A lot of teams were turned off by his reputation for running players into the ground, which has come to be known as “Thibs minutes”, a concept that is not well received in the era of Load Management. While Thibodeau is stubborn to a fault sometimes, he can adjust if forced to. So, it’s on the Leon Rose to force Thibs to evolve for everyone’s sake.