With the news becoming official on Thursday that the New York Knicks have officially named Tom Thibodeau, the 31st head coach in franchise history, the Knicks had their first virtual press conference to introduce Thibodeau later that day formally. Aside from Thibodeau, president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry were on the press conference that was conducted via Zoom. A lot of questions were asked, and a lot of notable answers were given, such as Thibodeau talking about how he is looking to coach the team and how he plans on developing the young roster, so with that, let’s dive into some major takeaways from the press conference.
Thibodeau made it clear from the beginning that being the head coach of the Knicks is his dream job and a challenge that he has been preparing for his whole career. Growing up in Connecticut, Thibodeau and his family were Knicks fans. He also has a professional history with the team from his seven seasons as an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy, which was the last time the Knicks were a consistent league powerhouse and championship contender. Here’s what Thibodeau said when talking about how much this Knicks head coaching job means to him (quotes per Marc Berman of the New York Post):
This is my dream job. … Maybe part of that, I grew up in Connecticut. My father, my family, we grew up as Knicks fans. I’ve been there before, I have a great understanding of New York. I think we have the best city in the world, best arena and the best fans. I was there throughout the ’90s and that was an incredible experience.
It’s very cool to see how Thibodeau’s career has come full circle, with him now returning to the place where he got his first major coaching experience for a prolonged period of time. You can tell how excited he is to be back and how ready he feels he is for this challenge of coaching the Knicks back to relevance.
A key element to any head coaching tenure being successful is the relationship between the coach and the front office personnel above him. If they aren’t largely in sync with one another and are butting heads most of the time, the team won’t go anywhere, and people will lose their jobs quickly. Luckily, this doesn’t seem like it will be a problem for the Knicks’ current regime, as Thibodeau has a strong, long-standing relationship with Rose and executive Vice President/senior basketball advisor William Wesley from their CAA days and Thibodeau being a CAA client.
Rose repeatedly touted Thibodeau as the “perfect” coach for this Knicks team and for creating a winning culture going forward. When it comes to Thibodeau’s coaching staff, it looks like choosing the coaches will be a collaborative effort. Thibodeau expressed great confidence in the ability of he and the front office to work together in assembling the right coaching staff:
I think you always sit down with your front office to go over the people you think can help…I’m confident that we’re going to sit down, I’m going to listen [to] the people that they have, I’m going to recommend some people that I know. Some of them are going to be on both lists. I’m e comfortable with that. I think we’re going to get a great staff and I’m looking forward to getting started with it.
Thibodeau mentioned that no decisions have been made yet, but it is expected that Mike Woodson, former Knicks head coach, and Mike Miller, the Knicks interim head coach this season, will be two members of the coaching staff. Names such as Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne and longtime Thibodeau assistants Andy Grier and Dice Yoshimoto have been thrown around as well.
When asked about the current team and players that may have stood out to Thibodeau, two names were mentioned: RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. He says he doesn’t want to make any qualifications about players until he meets them in person and gets to work with them, but Thibodeau admitted that those two players impressed him when he watched Knicks games from this season:
Based on film, I really think RJ has a very bright future as does Mitchell Robinson. Those are two who stand out. But we have a lot of young talent.
When asked about other players on the roster who have underperformed thus far in their young careers, such as Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, Thibodeau pointed out that they certainly have talent, but have experienced growing pains like many young players do:
With Frank and Kevin, they’re both young guys that have talent…Like most young players, there are growing pains you go through and there’s steps players have to take. Sometimes we measure guys against guys already established and you forget the steps those guys have to take to get to where they are. It’s an important part of it.
Thibodeau noted that a player’s determination and work ethic is how they get to that point and develop their games. When talking about the kind of rebuild he would be taking on with the Knicks, he admitted that there is a lot of work to be done. Rose claimed there isn’t a set time frame for the rebuild, and they will take everything one day at a time.
One of the more pressing questions surrounding Thibodeau is his willingness to adapt his coaching style to fit the modern NBA more. When asked about it, he seemed open towards it, which was refreshing to hear.
He was asked more specifically about his past preference of playing two traditional big men and his strong use of the post-up game, which are both seen as outdated in the modern NBA as teams are going smaller with their lineups. While he thinks that utilizing the post still comes in handy on certain occasions, Thibodeau agreed with the sentiment that the league has changed since his coaching days with the Chicago Bulls and even the Minnesota Timberwolves to an extent. He also noted that no coach should ever want to stay the same.
Another big criticism towards Thibodeau that was brought up during the press conference was his reputation for playing his players too many minutes and running them into the ground. He addressed this by talking about the fact that many elite offensive players were playing at least 30 minutes a game back when he was coaching, so he needed to have his top defenders out there in order for his team to not be at a disadvantage. Thibodeau did recognize that with the increased use of load management, those minutes are going down for most players, and therefore he would work with the trainers and sports scientists to make sure the players aren’t overworked.
Now, whether or not he will actually practice what he preached remains to be seen, but Knicks fans should feel good about Thibodeau’s response to those questions and the fact that he didn’t seem close-minded towards the idea of modernizing the way he coaches like many people speculated he might be.