How responsible is Tom Thibodeau for the current state of the New York Knicks?
Tom Thibodeau has gone from savior to curse almost overnight in his short tenure with the New York Knicks.
His team sits at 25-34, 12th in the Eastern Conference after last year’s miracle run to 41 wins and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. New York has lost three straight and eight of its last ten games. Even worse, four of those recent losses saw the Knicks blow double-digit leads in the second half.
The latest of these escapades came on Wednesday night when the team blew a 28-point lead against the Brooklyn Nets. As in, the same Brooklyn Nets who just traded James Harden, had an injured Kevin Durant watching in street clothes, and were without Kyrie Irving due to New York City’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. And yet, the Knicks crumbled in the fourth quarter.
And once again, questions surfaced about Tom Thibodeau and how he managed the rotation. Even without star RJ Barrett and team leader Derrick Rose, the veteran coach stuck to his strict routine with the minutes and had the streaky Alec Burks on the court. Meanwhile, Immanuel Quickley’s hot hand was on the bench while Brooklyn pulled off a 15-0 run to close the gap and take the lead.
Oh, and how about owner James Dolan leaving before the game was even over?
You know what time it is, folks. Tom Thibodeau’s job might be on the line, and it’s time to have “the talk.”
Tom Thibodeau still has the locker room
Oddly enough, Thibodeau still appears to have the support of his players. Julius Randle, who led the Knicks with 31 points in Wednesday’s 111-106 loss, practically gave his coach a full-throated endorsement after the game.
“Coach is amazing,” Randle said after the game. “I’m riding with coach every day. He challenges us and prepares us very well every day, so his message is still ringing clear in the locker room and we just have to execute it.”
And in Thibodeau’s defense, this year hasn’t been easy on several levels. Kemba Walker’s inconsistency combined with Rose’s injury has left the Knicks without a viable option at point guard once again. Nerlens Noel, who was a defensive force for the Knicks last year, has been limited to 25 games due to injuries and a case of COVID-19.
But it’s the coach’s job to play the hand he’s dealt. We can scream and shake our fists at team president Leon Rose’s media silence and/or lack of moves at the trade deadline all we want. He improved the roster on paper when he added Evan Fournier in free agency, and first-round rookie Quentin Grimes has proven a pleasant surprise himself.
Last this writer checked, Rose isn’t the one drawing up the game plans and deciding who gets how many minutes. That falls on Tom Thibodeau, whose hard-nosed style could once again be his undoing.
Is Tom Thibodeau on the hot seat?
The saddest part of all is that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Tom Thibodeau grew up a New York Knicks fan and served as an assistant on former coach Jeff Van Gundy’s staff. He signed a five-year deal and rode last year’s success with the team to his second NBA Coach of the Year award. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was the chosen one!
Granted, it’s easy for fans to complain when the Knicks play badly. 20 years of futility makes complaining and being disgruntled almost a default setting. Even though the fans aren’t in team practices, meetings, on calls with other NBA executives and the like, most generally have a good idea of what a good basketball team looks like.
And on paper, this is a good New York Knicks team. It’s maybe a weird combination of players, particularly putting the ball-dominant Fournier on the floor with Randle and Barrett, but we’ve seen how well this team performs on all cylinders.
The second-half collapses and sudden instances of going cold say it all, devoted readers. If it’s not the talent, then it’s the coaching.
In that department, the buck stops with Tom Thibodeau. Based on this comment alone, he sees no reason to make changes aboard what’s becoming a rapidly sinking ship.
"I'm not going to just give minutes to give minutes. You earn what you get.
If a guy is playing good, he plays. If the team is functioning well when he's on the floor, he should play. Team has to come first."
Tom Thibodeau on how the Knicks' rotation could change: pic.twitter.com/ssHykBE3c6
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) February 17, 2022
There’s being stuck in your ways, and then there’s being Tom Thibodeau. At this point, which is it?
The All-Star Break is upon us, and the Knicks don’t play again until the Miami Heat visit Madison Square Garden next Friday. There’s a lot of time between now and then for the front office to make some sort of decision. Given the Knicks’ recent hiring of former Minnesota Timberwolves executive Gersson Rosas as a consultant despite his own checkered past, it seems something could happen sooner rather than later.
And where does that leave Tom Thibodeau? Well, it’s hard to say. Team record aside, he hasn’t lost the locker room. Randle’s comments reflect that, and even Fournier publicly pleaded that the current roster stick together when the trade winds were blowing.
Except a team that’s on the verge of a turnaround doesn’t blow three separate 20-point leads and subsequently loses three separate games. Barrett and Rose both coming back from injuries will help, but what then? What if the struggles continue because Thibodeau insists the minutes and rotation will eventually come through?
Every loss is starting to look the same. The New York Knicks play well, then go cold out of nowhere and have a hard time recovering.
And what’s the common denominator after each loss? Tom Thibodeau and who he has on the court at a given time.
The Knicks deserve better than this and if that means Tom Thibodeau has to go, then maybe it’s for the best.