Maybe it would’ve made a difference if there had been a star-spangled press conference at Madison Square Garden or up at the Knicks’ headquarters in Westchester. Maybe in those usual confines, bedecked in a nice suit, freed to use his dais as a bully pulpit, Tom Thibodeau would’ve carried the day with oration and charm. …
Maybe it would’ve made a difference if there had been a star-spangled press conference at Madison Square Garden or up at the Knicks’ headquarters in Westchester. Maybe in those usual confines, bedecked in a nice suit, freed to use his dais as a bully pulpit, Tom Thibodeau would’ve carried the day with oration and charm.
Although, honestly, that doesn’t quite seem to be Thibodeau’s genre.
In a lot of ways, then, this was a perfect way for Thibodeau to say hello in the summer of 2020, on a Zoom call, in a Knicks golf shirt, a Brady Bunch square on a computer screen with castmates Leon Rose and Scott Perry. It is impossible to win the press conference when that press conference is on Zoom, anyway, so there was no need to try.
Besides: Knicks fans are tired of victorious press conferences. David Fizdale and Jeff Hornacek were excellent performers on Day 1, less so thereafter. Nobody had a more triumphant press conference than Phil Jackson did in 2014, when he wasn’t just hired to run the Knicks, he was canonized. Winning the press conference is swell.
Winning basketball games thereafter is a lot more useful, and a lot more meaningful.
“Anytime you go into a situation you think about ways you can improve your club,” Thibodeau said Thursday, the day he officially took over the reins of the Knicks. “You start with the players you have, your internal development is paramount. So we start there and add talent in the draft, we’re also looking in free agency to add talent, and we’re looking to trade to add talent. There’s four ways to improve the team. And we’ll look at all of them.”
Thibodeau is a no-nonsense coach with a no-nonsense personality, and if he can joke about how surprising it was to some when they heard he actually took a vacation to Miami this year, sat and fried on a beach, he also makes no pretense that he’s anything other than laser-focused and concentrated on the job at hand.
Others in recent years have accepted this job and spoken in grandiloquent tones about what their vision was for the franchise, and for the future, and they have overwhelmed with the generalities of optimism — which, at the end of the day, translates mostly to wishful thinking. Thibodeau speaks mostly in specifics, and with the authority of a man who has won 59 percent of his games as an NBA coach. He subscribes to five core values: rebounding, defense, low turnovers, sharing the ball and using the paint — passing or penetration — as a fundamental weapon.
Simple, perhaps, but that’s exactly the kind of back-to-basics starting point a team like the Knicks most needs. Speaking of the players he inherits now, Thibodeau said, “But I thought there were some players that really stepped up, and did a good job. But there’s a lot of work to do. One of the most important things when you’re studying a team is just to look at efficiency, and when you see you’re a -6.54, you realize there’s a lot of work. And hopefully we can get the players to play for each other and start building those habits.”
It is also useful to go back 24 years to the day Thibodeau’s friend and coaching guidepost, Jeff Van Gundy, was elevated to the head-coaching job after Don Nelson’s surprise axing 23 games from the end of the season. Van Gundy is another one who was never going to win a press conference in those days, when he was a little-known, hollow-eyed, scratchy-voiced gym rat.
But from the start, the reason he was able to succeed in the job is he wasn’t cowed by the job. He didn’t have a track record like Thibodeau has now, but listen to these very first words he delivered his first day on the job and then ask yourself: Why does that sound so familiar?
“Some coaches believe in giving players a day off,” Van Gundy said in the old Philadelphia Spectrum on March 8, 1996. “Other coaches believe in saving players’ legs. I’m one who believes in practice. I think games are won in practice. It’s not just working hard, it’s working productively. My job is to create a winning, working environment.
“There is no easy answer.”
There wasn’t then. There isn’t now. If the Knicks are to be rehabbed it will come a brick at a time, a nail at a time, a piece at a time. Van Gundy was a serious basketball man, and Thibodeau is a serious basketball man, so serious he sometimes makes Van Gundy look like Jackie the Joke Man by comparison.
But the Knicks need serious now. They require serious. They crave serious. Tom Thibodeau brings that to the dance, and that winning percentage, and a specific belief in how this should all be done. Good. It’s about time.