Hiring Tom Thibodeau is Just the Latest Bad Decision By the New York Knicks
The New York Knicks have been looking for a new head coach for six months after David Fizdale was fired less than halfway through the 2019-20 season. They considered keeping Mike Miller, the interim head coach. They reportedly considered classic retreads like Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd. They thought long and hard about Kenny Atkinson, bringing in the former Brooklyn Nets coach for multiple interviews.
On Saturday, the final decision was made. The Knicks would be hiring Tom Thibodeau as the man to lead the franchise into a new era. It was not the worst option available to them, but it was far from the best. Simply put, it's just another poor decision in a long line of such decisions by the maligned franchise.
Thibodeau hasn't coached since he was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in January 2019. As both head coach and president of basketball operations, he did manage to break the Wolves' 14-year playoff drought by bringing in Jimmy Butler. But the locker room fell apart, and so did the Wolves. Shortly after Thibodeau was fired, Butler was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, and most of the additions Thibodeau made were jettisoned.
Leon Rose runs basketball operations for the Knicks, so perhaps without that added burden, Thibs could be closer to the coach who helped turn the Chicago Bulls into regular playoff contenders for the first time since Michael Jordan graced the United Center parquet. But the downsides outweigh the upsides when it comes to Thibodeau.
As it stands, the only hope the Knicks have to be competitive in the foreseeable future is to develop their young talent. RJ Barrett showed flashes of the go-to scoring potential that earned him a top draft slot in 2019. Mitchell Robinson is a modern rim-runner and the only player besides Barrett definitely worth building around. Thibs has a decent track record of player development-- he helped bring along Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah when he was in Chicago.
But unless something has dramatically changed in the last 18 months, Thibodeau will be dead-set on playing his best players as long as they can physically do so. That's been his MO as a head coach. And times have changed since he had four players playing over 30 minutes per game, as he did during Rose's MVP season in 2010. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the likely MVP, averaged only 30 minutes a game. Giving Barrett every minute he can handle will help accelerate his development a bit, sure, but his past coaching adventures suggests Thibodeau doesn't necessarily know when too much is too much. The last thing these Knicks need is chronic knee issues from their one bright spot.
Ultimately, though, it's not about what Thibs does or does not bring to the table as it is about who the Knicks passed on to bring Thibs aboard. He's a great defensive coach, which will be a boon for a young team. He knows how to handle young players and veterans alike. There will be positives from his tutelage. But does anyone really think he'll see the end of that five-year deal? Why wouldn't they sign Atkinson, who did more with less than any coach in the league for several years only one borough away? Given the next two to three years will be spent building up their young talent, why not take a swing on a fast-rising assistant who could be the next Nick Nurse?
Thibodeau was the safe move. New York know exactly what they're getting with him. But it's difficult to see him doing anything more than leading the Knicks to the playoffs as a pesky eight-seed who will be swept in the first round. A lesser-known name might've flopped, but they also might've been great. The Knicks will never know. They have their man. But it will lead to the same result-- disappointment.