Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks rebuild starts now: ‘A dream come true’
New Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau grew up in New Britain, Conn., and still owns his old house — 85 miles from the Knicks’ practice site in Tarrytown.
During his introductory Zoom press conference Thursday, Thibodeau referred to his new position as his “dream job.’’ He said it four times.
“This is a dream come true for me,’’ Thibodeau said. “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.’’
For the first time in nearly eight months, the Knicks officially have a permanent head coach. They announced it on the first day of the NBA’s 22-team restart, as the Knicks try to restart their dead franchise that has missed the playoffs seven straight years.
Larry Brown once called the Knicks his “dream job’’ and left after one 17-65 disaster. Thibodeau is a former assistant coach from the 1990s glory days who went on to become a marquee coach with the Bulls and even broke Minnesota’s 13-year playoff drought in 2018.
But now Thibodeau may face a bigger task with James Dolan’s moribund Knicks. Asked how he can turn around a perennial mess, Thibodeau didn’t shy away from mentioning a championship, which the team hasn’t won in 47 years.
“You don’t make major jumps without going through each step,” he said. “So I think the first step is to establish the work ethic and how we want to play. 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 your [net rating] is a minus-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.
“Of course the ultimate goal is to bring a championship back to the city, where it’s synonymous with winning and championships, and that’s in New York.’’
Knicks president Leon Rose will be on the hook if Thibodeau’s old-school ways don’t work. Rose, his former agent at Creative Artists Agency, said there was “a comfort level’’ in hiring Thibodeau because of their long-term relationship.
Rose called the 62-year-old Thibodeau “the perfect candidate for this job from the standpoint of he’s going to demand accountability, he’s going to have development and he’s going to create a winning culture.”
“We hired not only a great basketball coach but an elite coach,” Rose said. “His principles and goals embody everything Knicks basketball represents.”
On Saturday, Thibodeau agreed to terms on a five-year deal. Some league insiders estimate the deal could be worth at least $25 million — even with a pandemic discount that likely will cause his Knicks debut to be played without fans in attendance.
Thibodeau thanked Dolan in his prepared remarks and listed 15 coaches from whom he had taken tidbits — from Jeff Van Gundy to Bill Musselman. And Thibodeau called the former Knicks coaches he worked with “the best staff ever assembled. Guys like Brendan Malone, Don Chaney, Jeff Nix, Steve Clifford, Andy Greer, Mike Malone — many head coaches that are in the league today.’’
Thibodeau got the Timberwolves to the playoffs but charges he didn’t connect with Minnesota’s young players led to his firing in January 2019.
Thibodeau declined to go into detail regarding Minnesota.
“It was more of a total rebuild, a team that had not won a lot for a long time,’’ he said. “So I think you take from each experience, but each experience is different.”
Sources indicated Thibodeau was intrigued with the potential opening in Houston but said he was attracted to the Knicks because of cap flexibility and their wealth of draft picks (seven first-rounders in the next four drafts).
“The three main reasons why this job was so appealing to me was the current roster that we have now is young and talented and there’s room for growth,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s exciting to me. Secondly, is to work for Leon and Wes [William Wesley], two people I’ve known for an extremely long time. And thirdly is all the draft picks that have been acquired and also the cap space. We have many different ways to improve the team.’’
Thibodeau tried to dispel his reputation as a basketball-obsessed, humorless drill sergeant who has no other life. He joked at this longtime Knicks writer, saying, “I can’t believe you’re still around’’ and denied all he did during unemployment was visit other teams’ practices — which he did plenty of.
“I went on vacation a couple times,’’ Thibodeau said. “I know people don’t think I do that. But I got away and laid on a beach in Miami for a couple of weeks.’’
The Knicks interviewed 11 candidates over seven weeks, but Thibodeau was reported as the frontrunner the entire time.
“We did our due diligence in this search,” Rose said. “We were open-minded and heard from many diverse candidates with various philosophies. The thoroughness of the search is what we felt the fans deserved. We wanted to get it right.”