What the Fans think
When I look for topics to write about I think what are important storylines that are not being discussed by the media. Because what is the point of reading an independent content creator’s blog if all you’re going to get is the same hot takes.
So when I went on the Knick of Time postgame show after the win against the Blazers to discuss my article “Fans Need To Trust The Process” I was surprised to hear a caller named Jason rip into me. He was furious that I wasn’t blaming Coach Thibodeau enough for the team’s failures.
Jason even asked, “is the T in Ken T. short for Thibodeau”? Which I found hilarious:) But Jason spoke for the majority of the fan base as well as Mr. J Ellis, who played Fournier style defense while I was getting torched 🔥 by Jason.
So for me, the question isn’t whether Thibs should get fired, but rather when should he get fired. When Thibs was signed to a 5 year contract, no one expected him to finish the deal. Giving him 5 years was the front office’s way of guaranteeing him at least 3 years of actually coaching.
If you don’t believe me then look at the average tenure for an NBA coach, it’s less than 2 1/2 seasons. On average coaches get fired in the middle of their 3rd season. If you then just look at Knick coaches, their tenure is shorter, closer to 2 seasons, as the Knicks are one the teams that have fired the most coaches in the last 20 seasons.
So back to the question of when Thibs should get fired. Most of the fans like Jason would say “yesterday” because he is not developing the young players. But the reality is that Leon Rose is going to wait as long as possible to fire Thibs. The reason being that he hired him and it will reflect bad on Leon to fire Thibs now. So let’s first look at the reasons why a coach would get fired so soon, then the reasons why Thibs needs to go.
Why coaches get fired quickly
There are 3 reasons why a coach would get fired within two his first two seasons.
- Players quit on the head coach
- Coach is fighting with management
- Coach is in over his head
Players quit on the head coach
In 1995, Don Nelson took over for Pat Riley, but got fired after 59 games despite having a winning record, 34-25. The reason was simple, the players fired him by not giving any effort, especially in his last game, a blow out loss. It was clear that the season was at risk if Nelson stayed on.
Coach is fighting with management
In 2006, Larry Brown got fired after one disappointing season despite being one of the best coaches in basketball history. The reason wasn’t the losing record, but his rift with GM Isiah Thomas. He was making Thomas look bad by not embracing any of the players he had acquired. So Thomas had to fire Brown to show that talent wasn’t the issue, that it was coaching. That is why he came down from the front office to coach the team the next season.
Coach is in over his head
In 2019, David Fizdale was fired 22 games into his 2nd season, which was really his 1st, since the team tanked the prior season. It became apparent to everyone that even though Fizdale talked a good game, he couldn’t coach one. He lost the respect of the players and trust of the front office by not holding players accountable and confusing them by constantly changing his strategies.
Then there is Thibs
When you look that the 3 reasons why a coach would be fired so quickly, the one that Thibs should be worried about is the first, players quitting on him. But that hasn’t happened yet. So unless RJ openly revolts against Thibs before the end of the season which would be out of character, I don’t see it happening.
As for the other two reasons, they don’t apply to this situation. Thibs has a prior relationship with Leon Rose since he used to be Thibs’ agent. As for the coaching, he is well respected and proven. You have heard the players say that his attention to detail is second to none, that he always has them well prepared for the games. The real issues with Thibs are as follows:
- Plays starters too many minutes
- Uncreative on offense
- Doesn’t trust the young players
What about next season?
Another important point Jason made on the fans behalf was; What about next season? It doesn’t make sense to throw away another season over pride or optics. The fans don’t believe Thibs will self-reflect and fix his flaws, especially the first one that is the main reason most teams didn’t want to hire him.
Knowing that Thibodeau won’t retire and that Leon doesn’t want to fire him until he absolutely has to; what can the Knicks do next season?
There are two options, hire an experienced head coach to replace Kenny Payne who left to take the Louisville job or hire someone that compliments assistant head coach Johnnie Bryant.
Hire experience HC as assistant
The Knicks were able to add Mike Woodson as an assistant to Thibs’ coaching staff because it was his 1st season, he had no say in the matter. It also wasn’t going to cause much of a stir since Thibs was just hired and wasn’t on the hot seat. Doing that now would cause a distraction and make Thibs feel threatened. That is exactly what Atlanta did last season when they hired Nate McMillian to be an assistant on Lloyd Pierce’s staff. We all saw how that turned out. The other person that would also be threatened is Johnnie Bryant, hiring an experienced head coach to the staff would be a sign to him that he isn’t next in line to be head coach.
Hire Johnnie Bryant
The other option is Johnnie Bryant. Everyone likes him because of his relationships with star guards he has coached, most notably Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell. You even heard Kemba Walker credit him for the way he supported him after Thibs benched him and stopped talking to him. Which has a bad look for Thibs, especially when you consider how he handles Julius Randle.
The real question is, can Bryant be a good head coach under the bright lights of Broadway? He does have 2 seasons of experience coaching in this market. We have also seen ex-players with no coaching experience get hired as head coaches, look no further than Brooklyn that hired Steve Nash last season. The key is surrounding Johnnie Bryant with quality assistant coaches, which the Knicks have shown they are willing to pay for. With that in place, you as a Knick fan would feel more comfortable trying to convince a star player to come play for the Knicks with 36 year old Johnnie Bryant as head coach instead of 64 year old Tom Thibodeau.
So the more I think about it, the more likely it is that Thibodeau gets fired next season if the Knicks get off to a bad start. It also looks like Johnnie Bryant is the most likely successor in this game of thrones. The biggest tell-tell sign will be who the Knicks add as assistant coaches this summer.