Tom Thibodeau has agreed to a 5-year deal to become the 30th head coach of the New York Knicks.
He’s not widely considered to be the coach a rebuilding team should hire, but there are strong reasons to suggest coach Thibs might be the best fit for the development of the Knicks’ young core.
Thibodeau began his NBA career as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989 and paved his way as an assistant through teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.
He also won a ring as an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Boston Celtics in 2008.
Thibs was considered Boston’s defensive guru, bringing an energy and consistency on the sidelines that translated to the players on the court.
“Coach is real animated. He’s real emotional. He’s real energetic,” Kevin Garnett said about Thibs in 2008 per The Boston Globe.
“That’s what type of defense we try to go out and have. It’s an energetic, consistent defense. It’s a talkative defense, and when you see him on the side, those are the things that he’s put in for us to try to go and carry over to the court,” Garnett added.
Paul Pierce said Thibs is one of the hardest working assistant coaches he had ever been around and credited him with developing the Celtics’ defensive system.
“He gave us a system to believe in. From day one, he said ‘This is how we’re going to guard.’ And once you put in a system, if you get all the guys to believe in it and trust in it, it means everything,” Pierce said.
Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen reportedly questioned Thibodeau’s defense at first, until they realized he was on point.
“Thibodeau would always act like he’s listening and be like, ‘You guys are more than welcome to come in my office and watch the eight hours of films that I watched. And I promise you this will work if you do it hard and you do it right,’” former Celtics forward Brian Scalabrine said.
From that point on the 2007-08 Boston Celtics went on to win an NBA championship as an all-time great defensive team.
“Fifteen games in, there was no more questioning Tom Thibodeau,” Scalabrine added.
Thibs Mentored Kobe Bryant in High School
Kobe Bryant also had high praise for Tom Thibodeau back in 2010 while speaking to ESPN about the influence he instilled in him at a young age.
“He was crucial. He was with me when I was 16 or 17 years old,” Bryant said.
“Just doing drills and just working on ball handling and just teaching me the game. He was there from day one,” Bryant added.
Also, Yao Ming thanked Thibs in his retirement speech. Thibs was an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets from 2004-07 and the head coach at the time, Jeff Van Gundy, credits him with helping Yao develop into an All-Star.
“Tom was tremendous at developing a routine that Yao could follow – a blueprint to take him from being good to being great,” Van Gundy said.
Coach of the Year
Shortly after his stint with the Boston Celtics Tom Thibodeau became the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. He remained the coach for five seasons, including the 2010 team that won 62 games and saw Derrick Rose become the youngest MVP in NBA history.
Thibs also won Coach of the Year at the end of that season.
Jimmy Butler, Joachim Noah and Loul Deng developed into All-Stars and All-Defensive players under coach Thibodeau in Chicago.
Joachim Noah heaped praise on the Knicks for hiring coach Thibs, saying he’s a “perfect fit” and that “the Knicks are in good hands,” per the NY Post.
Noah was a two-time All-Star (2013, 2014) and won Defensive Player of the Year under coach Thibodeau in 2014.
Thibs’ Toughest Challenge
In many ways, Tom Thibodeau as the next Knicks head coach seems like a perfect fit.
He has a track record of positively influencing and developing young players that have since become All-Stars and NBA greats.
For the Knicks, he has the potential to elevate Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina into anchors in a consistent defensive system.
A Jimmy Butler style player might be a realistic ceiling for RJ Barrett, and Thibs’ experience helping develop the five-time all-star into a two-way star bodes well for the Knicks’ 2019 first round pick.
While Dennis Smith Jr. is nowhere near the talent that Derrick Rose is, their playstyles are fairly similar. Coach Thibodeau might be able to salvage Smith Jr.’s potential by putting him in an offensive system that enhances his game.
There’s tremendous potential for this hire to be exactly what the young Knicks need to grow and mature into a consistent NBA team with a winning culture.
Several questions remain, though, about new President Leon Rose and the Knicks’ intentions after hiring Tom Thibodeau. Is coach Thibs all-in on a rebuild? Or is this another attempt at bypassing a rebuild in favor of a win-now approach?
Knicks fans can only hope that free agency isn’t littered with short-term veteran deals that will take minutes away from the young core to win a few more games in the short-term.
Drafting a young point guard with a top ten pick in 2020 to complement a rotation alongside RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. would leave coach Thibs with a promising young squad to elevate from day one.