ESPN’s NBA restart conference call was hijacked by questions about the Knicks coaching search and their new hire Tom Thibodeau. And Jeff Van Gundy took full advantage to fiercely defend his buddy and former assistant in New York and Houston about allegations he overplayed his top players and was too demanding, calling it “great slander.’’ …
ESPN’s NBA restart conference call was hijacked by questions about the Knicks coaching search and their new hire Tom Thibodeau.
And Jeff Van Gundy took full advantage to fiercely defend his buddy and former assistant in New York and Houston about allegations he overplayed his top players and was too demanding, calling it “great slander.’’
Van Gundy also had advice for Thibodeau and Knicks fans. They need to be patient because of a roster that “needs a lot of work.’’
Asked if an NBA coach can still be a taskmaster such as Thibodeau, Van Gundy went on a rant, saying it’s “slander’’ to criticize the 62-year-old New Britain, Conn., product on that front.
“I don’t think players have changed nearly as much as organizations and coaches have changed,’’ Van Gundy said. “You can’t demand less of players and then complain that they’re willing to do less at times. I find it does a disservice to players. I think good players in any era want to be challenged and pushed to be their best and they want to play on teams of significance. This idea that Tom doesn’t know how to pace his team is one of the great slanders that has been perpetuated by the media on a coach.”
The Post reported last week that Knicks management’s only concern is whether Thibodeau’s hard-driving style still relates to millennial players after he was fired in Minnesota in January 2019. According to a source, it is the reason vice president William Wesley would like Thibodeau to assemble a more diverse staff with different personalities.
“I think all coaches have to learn to adapt and adjust to the slights and not fight them because you can spend a lot of time fighting against some slanderous stuff that is said by really the unknowing,’’ Van Gundy said. “It’s not like people have gone into Tom’s practices and watched.
“Bill Parcells said this long ago and it’s so true: ‘One of the most important jobs of a coach is to pace his team correctly.’ That doesn’t just go to game minutes. It goes to practice minutes. It goes to how much contact you do in practice. It goes into a lot of things. And I think, unfortunately for Tom, since they couldn’t get him on the results they tried to get him on other stuff.’’
It’s a fine line between patience and not demanding enough from a Knicks franchise that has missed the playoffs seven straight seasons. They’ve been part of the postseason just four times since Van Gundy resigned in 2001.
“[President] Leon Rose did a great job in identifying many capable coaches and then picking one in Tom that’s absolutely elite,’’ Van Gundy said. “The roster needs a lot of work. You win with great players. They need to fortify the roster over the next few years. But if everyone is patient and realistic and allows Tom to work, they will reap the benefit because he’s exceptional in every way.”
Van Gundy, asked if Thibodeau has the patience to work a Knicks’ rebuild, pointed to the mess he inherited in Minnesota and eventually broke the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought before an ugly ending.
“He took over the worst team in basketball in Minnesota,’’ Van Gundy said. “I think you want a coach that’s both patient and impatient. He’s not afraid of the challenge. You have to be patient. But if you’re too patient you don’t drive change where the culture has to change.
“If you think that all happens without patience, no, that happens with impatience, too. You have to be demanding that these things happen right off the bat and I do think that Tom is eminently qualified.”
Mark Jackson, who interviewed for the Knicks job in 2008 and 2018 but not this time, only had complimentary words for the former Knicks assistant whom once coached him in New York.
“Obviously it was a great hire,’’ Jackson said. “Tom Thibodeau is a great basketball mind. Extremely successful. Has done it before. I’m sure he’ll do a fantastic job of turnings things around and I couldn’t be more happier for him.’’