Tom Thibodeau to fix the New York Knicks?

New York Knicks Tom Thibodeau (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
New York Knicks Tom Thibodeau (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Leon Rose is on his way in as New York Knicks president and is looking into the past when seeking their next head coach. Could Tom Thibodeau be the guy?

With longtime player agent Leon Rose set to become the president of the New York Knicks as soon as he gets some unfinished business with client Dwyane Wade‘s jersey retirement ceremony in Miami off the table, one of the first tasks Rose will have is to fill the coaching vacancy created when his predecessor, Steve Mills, axed David Fizdale in December.

Other agents-turned-executives have found success in the NBA, most notably Bob Myers with the Golden State Warriors. Rob Pelinka has also had some moments since gaining personnel control over the Los Angeles Lakers last spring.

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But there have been swings and misses to the approach as well. Lon Babby bombed with the Phoenix Suns and Arn Tellem couldn’t help the Detroit Pistons.

The short list of coaching candidates reportedly has two names with deep ties to the New York Knicks organization.

Jeff Van Gundy spent more than 12 years with the organization, first as an assistant from 1989-96 and later as head coach from late in the 1995-96 season through early in the 2001-02 campaign.

Van Gundy led New York to a 248-172 record, six consecutive playoff berths from 1996-2001 and the only run in history from the No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals in 1999.

Van Gundy resigned in early December 2001, 19 games into the season, and the New York Knicks collapsed under his replacement, Don Chaney, finishing 20-43 after going 10-9 under Van Gundy and missing the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

One of the other candidates named by Marc Berman of the New York Post last week is cut from a similar mold as Van Gundy, which makes sense.

After all, Tom Thibodeau — the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2010-11 in his first season with the Chicago Bulls — worked as an assistant under Van Gundy in New York for five-plus seasons and then rejoined him for four more years with the Houston Rockets.

Van Gundy, 58, hasn’t coached in the NBA since being fired by the Rockets in 2007, working as one of ESPN’s lead analysts the last 12 years.

The 62-year-old Thibodeau has been out of the NBA since he was fired as head coach and president of basketball operations by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 6, 2019, after a 22-point victory over the Lakers.

Thibodeau with 255-139 in five seasons with the Bulls from 2010-15 and 97-107 over parts of three seasons in Minnesota, breaking the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought in 2018, but failing to successfully mesh veteran star Jimmy Butler with young franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for more than just a single season.

There were reports Villanova University head coach Jay Wright could be a Knicks target, but the New York Post confirmed Monday there was no mutual interest from the two-time NCAA championship-winning coach

But on Tuesday, Berman reported for the Post that Thibodeau is more than a little interested in the Knicks vacancy.

An unnamed source identified in the piece as a Thibodeau confidant told the Post there was a lot of interest,

"“He realy wants the Knick job. He can taste it and he may even be in the lead. He has been visiting teams, but primarily hanging out in LA near [Doc Rivers] and [Tyronn Lue].”"

Rivers is the head coach of the LA Clippers and had Thibodeau on his staff with the Boston Celtics from 2007-10 — including the 2008 title run — before Thibs landed the head coaching gig in Chicago. Lue, who coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title in 2016, is Rivers’ lead assistant.

As a personnel man, Thibodeau fell victim to a tendency that has plagued many former coaches who move into management — too much loyalty on players who helped them be successful in the past. In Minnesota, Thibodeau brought in Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose — stalwarts with the Bulls under Thibs — with varying results.

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But with Rose calling the personnel shots and Thibodeau freed to do what he does best — coax big-time defense (and big-time minutes) out of his players, that could be a combination that works for the Knicks. Even Thibodeau’s confident (no word whether his name was Tib Thomideau) agreed with that assessment, with one potentially gigantic caveat.

"“Rose has always been known as much more ethical than most agents and if he can deliver players and let a strong coach coach, this could work out. It’s never a sure thing because of ownership, but Thibs knows he can work with Rose and also knows he’d be able to bring in his people as well.”"

Thibodeau came under some criticism in Minnesota for being tough on the young players, told the Chicago Sun-Times recently his record speaks for itself.

"“For me, it’s always been about being true to yourself. If you do the research, look at the numbers and talk to the players that have played for me, you would find the truth. It’s not frustrating because it’s all part of it, part of the league. We’re all going to get criticized for something. I’ve always been comfortable with that.”"

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After a 4-18 start to the season, the New York Knicks have gone 13-20 under interim coach Mike Miller, but he might not have a big enough profile — this was his first season as an NBA assistant after four years coaching the G League’s Westchester Knicks and a 162-209 record in 13 years as head coach at mid-major collegiate programs at Texas State and Eastern Illinois.