NEW YORK — It’s Thibs’ time.
The Knicks reached an agreement Saturday to hire Tom Thibodeau, ESPN reported. He’ll be bringing his demanding style and history of defensive innovation to the gig.
The hiring was expected and anticipated since Leon Rose took over as team president in March. However, contract negotiations stalled this week, according for a source, leaving the hiring in doubt and elevating Jason Kidd’s candidacy, according to a source.
The Knicks ended up agreeing to give Thibodeau a five-year deal, according to ESPN.
Rose and his No. 1 executive, William Wesley, have a strong connection with Thibodeau as his former agents at CAA.
Still, they went through the process of interviewing several candidates, including Kidd, Mike Woodson, Mike Miller and Kenny Atkinson. Woodson and Miller — both former Knicks head coaches — are candidates to join Thibodeau’s staff as assistants, according to sources.
Thibodeau, 62, arrives with success and baggage. He was tremendous as a defensive-minded assistant coach — first with the Knicks under Jeff Van Gundy, then with the Celtics under Doc Rivers — and he parlayed that to a successful stint as head coach with the Bulls.
But Thibodeau has had a problem with relationships. He feuded with the Bulls front office of Gar Forman and John Paxson, leading to his dismissal in 2015 despite guiding the franchise through its best period of the post-Jordan era. He then took over in Minnesota and clashed with both owner Glen Taylor and star forward Karl-Anthony Towns.
Perhaps Thibodeau’s familiarity with Rose and Wesley will foster a more harmonious atmosphere. Thibodeau’s success in Chicago — which was highlighted by a 62-win season and appearance in the Eastern Conference finals — also produced a critique aimed at the coach for ignoring minutes restrictions and overusing his starters.
About two months ago, Thibodeau got ahead of the story by claiming a better understanding of how to handle resting players.
“The way everyone’s managing with load management and where your team is, sports scientists, so it’s different. And if your team is young and you’re in a rebuild, you’re probably practicing more than an older veteran team,” Thibodeau said in an ESPN podcast. “In some cases where the team is mixed, there’s almost two practices going on in one, where your young guys are getting the work they need, and the older vets are in the weight room getting strength and conditioning.”
Regardless of the reasons his stints in Chicago and Minnesota ended abruptly, Thibodeau brings a strong record of winning. He posted winning records in six of his seven completed seasons as a head coach. The Bulls were worse before and after Thibodeau, and his Timberwolves advanced to the playoffs for the only time in the franchise’s last 16 years.
The Knicks, on the other hand, haven’t made the playoffs since 2013. They’ve been the league’s worst team since the 2014-15 season. Currently, Thibodeau’s roster is bleak after two intriguing young pieces in RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks also have a lottery pick and cap space to shape the roster. Thibodeau will be the franchise’s seventh different coach since 2014.
Whereas predecessor David Fizdale was a player-friendly coach whose strength was relationships, Thibodeau offers more substance in the way of coaching. He is the Knicks’ most high-profile coaching hire since at least Mike D’Antoni in 2008.
It’s unclear yet when or where Thibodeau can begin to coach the players on the roster. The Knicks haven’t played or formally practiced since the coronavirus shutdown in March. Based on their poor record, they were among eight teams that weren’t invited to the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the NBA might allow the eliminated teams to hold a week-long mini camp at their own facilities for the second week of August. Then they could go to another site for two weeks of practice. That proposal requires approval from the players union.
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