By George Willis
The New York Knicks finally hired a real coach. He’s not an inexperienced neophyte like Derek Fisher; not a yes man like Jeff Hornacek; and not someone who was supposed play nice with free agents like David Fizdale. Tom Thibodeau is a real coach with proven experience and a voice his players will have to respect.
The Knicks finally got it right.
Look, there are no guarantees in any of this. Thibodeau might prove to be a short term fix or create the kind of stability the Knicks organization has lacked since the Jeff Van Gundy era. But this we know for sure: the Knicks will be held accountable and they’ll be taught to play defense. If that’s old-school, then that’s exactly what the Knicks need, someone that can turn them into a team and not just a roster of individuals with different agendas.
It seems forever since the Knicks have had someone at the helm with instant credibility. Fisher’s hiring by Phil Jackson still makes no sense given he’d never been a head coach and had zero ties to the Knicks. His reign ended with a 40-96 record. Hornacek had head coaching experience but his authority was undercut having to run Jackson’s triangle offense. He was gone after going 60-104. There were high hopes for Fizdale, but some coaches are better at being assistants as his 21-83 record with the Knicks will attest.
Thibodeau has a career record of 352-246 after spending five years as head coach of the Bulls and three years with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was the National Basketball Association Coach of the Year in 2011, his first season in Chicago where the Bulls were 62-20 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls made the playoffs in each of his five seasons.
He ended the Timberwolves 14-year playoff drought in 2018 by winning 47 games. He is considered a strong defensive mind, something the Knicks given lip service to in recent years.
Any concerns the 62-year-old won’t mesh with today’s young players shouldn’t be an issue. There’s no one on the Knicks roster that has enough clout to balk at being coached hard. Great players or players that want to be great should embrace that.
Thibodeau’s hiring also says something about the Knicks new regime headed by former super agent Leon Rose. Thibodeau was a former client and obviously has confidence he is the right man for the job.
Thibodeau, an assistant with the Knicks under Van Gundy, knows the culture of Madison Square Garden and the expectations of New York City. Mark Jackson deserves another chance somewhere as does Jason Kidd. But the timing is right for Thibodeau to return to New York and mold a young team that needs to learn how to play winning basketball.
Hopefully, the Knicks got it right this time. I think they did.