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If the Knicks are willing to be bold, Tom Thibodeau is the best move

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Is Tom Thibodeau to the Knicks a legitimate possibility?

The Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau today after years of tension between the star coach and the team’s ownership group. As I wrote last year, “Thibs” considers the Knicks’ head coaching position a “dream job.” The Connecticut native served for seven years as an assistant coach with the Knicks from 1996 to 2003, and has a terrific track record as a phenomenal defensive coach. As a head coach, Thibodeau won the Coach of the Year award in 2011, and in 2012 became the fastest coach ever to reach 100 wins. Thibs had a .647 winning percentage in Chicago, but never seemed to get along with his bosses.

The Knicks finished at 17-65 last season after bringing Phil Jackson aboard as president and, under Phil’s direction, hiring Derek Fisher as head coach. Fisher signed a 5-year, $25 million deal and has 4 seasons remaining on the contract.

Thibodeau would reportedly welcome the opportunity to coach the Knicks, and any sensible NBA team would love the opportunity to hire him. Carmelo Anthony has said he is a big admirer of Thibodeau. Thibs’ track record speaks for itself. The Knicks need to make major changes after last season’s debacle. Fisher wasn’t particularly impressive. It sounds like a perfect fit— Thibodeau to the Knicks.

But there are major obstacles. The Knicks’ job currently isn’t open. Firing Derek Fisher appears unlikely for a few reasons. For one, the Knicks are on the hook for $20 million, which is a lot of money to pay a guy you don’t employ. Firing Fisher and hiring Thibodeau (who won’t come cheap) would be a costly move. Second of all, Fisher was Phil’s first hire. He played for Phil, he mastered Phil’s Triangle system, he won five championships with Phil. Phil hired him so that he could mentor him and coach the Knicks without actually having to BE the coach of the Knicks. Fisher is Phil’s “guy.” It’s a bad look to fire that “guy” after one season, especially when the team the coach was given rarely looked like it had a fighting chance.

But that doesn’t make the move impossible. James Dolan has shown a willingness to spend in the past. The salary cap prevents the Knicks from having a huge edge in terms of talent, but teams can spend as much as they want on their staff. In addition, Fisher isn’t necessarily Phil’s “guy.” Fisher wasn’t his first choice. Phil wanted to hire Steve Kerr and thought they had a deal, possibly because Dolan didn’t like Kerr’s salary demands (if that is the case, that throws some serious doubt on whether he’d be willing to pay two coaches at once), or maybe because Kerr realized how much better the job in Golden State was.

The biggest obstacles? The egos of Thibodeau, Phil and Dolan. Thibodeau is an independent coach, he won’t throw out his principles to run Phil’s system. Phil won’t be eager to admit that his first coaching move, like nearly all of his early moves, might have been a mistake, and he won’t be willing to give up his dreams of riding the Triangle to a 14th ring in New York. Dolan won’t want a coach who isn’t a company man— and while Thibodeau put up with Dolan as an assistant over ten years ago, he’s clearly more stubborn as a head coach, which is why he’s now on the market to begin with. And to those saying Thibodeau would be a good fit as a defensive-minded assistant coach, it’s extremely unlikely that one of the league’s top coaches would accept an assistant job. And even if Thibs did, he would still command a Head Coach-level salary. If anything, the Knicks might be better off seeing if Fisher would accept a demotion, taking the role of an offensive-minded, Triangle-preaching assistant under Thibodeau.

By hiring Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks could bring in an established coach, a big name, a defensive savior, and a guy who could help them lure the top-notch players they’ll need to sign in free agency (if they aren’t scared off by Thibodeau’s tendency to put heavy workloads on his best players). It would make the Knicks a better team. If winning is the first priority— if Phil and Dolan want to win at all costs (literally and figuratively), Thibodeau is the right hire. He’s the best hire. He’s likely a guy who wants to be hired. But unless the Knicks deviate from the status quo (which happens to be exactly what needs to start occurring for this team to win a championship), Thibodeau likely won’t be coaching in New York any time soon.

-Tommy Rothman

Report: Tom Thibodeau Would Only Leave Bulls For “Dream Job” With Knicks


Tom Thibodeau, considered one of the game’s top coaches, would consider leaving the Chicago Bulls, but only to return to the Knicks, sources told Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher (formerly of ESPN). Thibodeau, who won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2011, worked for the Knicks as an assistant coach back in 1999, when they made it to the NBA Finals. According to Bucher,

“There’s only one place that Thibodeau would really push to go elsewhere, and that’s to go back to the New York Knicks,” Bucher said. “That, I’m told by one source, is actually his dream job, to go back and get the Knicks back on the map. But short of that, he realizes that no matter where he goes, the grass isn’t always greener.”

Thibodeau is under contract with the Bulls, but there has reportedly been friction between the coach and the front office during his time in Chicago. Thibodeau was upset when the team fired his best assistant coach last season, and when they traded All-Star Luol Deng for cap space and salary relief this winter.

While the Knicks were a bit stingy (at least compared to the Warriors) in their failed pursuit of Steve Kerr, teams are not limited by the salary cap for coaching hires and James Dolan and Phil Jackson could probably make Tom Thibodeau an offer he couldn’t refuse.

However, Thibodeau is still a long shot to coach the Knicks for a couple reasons. First of all, the Knicks would almost certainly have to provide Chicago with compensation to get them to let the highly sought-after coach out of his contract, and the Knicks don’t have much to give in the way of trade assets. Second of all, Phil Jackson seems to be focused on hiring a coach with little or no experience, with whom he has a previous relationship, in an effort to indirectly coach the team from afar and find a pupil to try to convert into the “Next Phil Jackson”. Thibodeau has no relationship with Phil and is already a very established coach who is probably set in his own ways. 

The reports of Thibodeau considering the Knicks to be his “dream job” can only be seen as good news, but for the time being, don’t count on him bringing his clipboard to the Big Apple.

-Tommy Rothman


Steve Kerr Meets with Phil Jackson to Discuss Knicks’ Coaching Job


According to reports, Steve Kerr met with Knicks President Phil Jackson on Friday and Saturday to discuss the Knicks’ open Head Coach position. The Knicks fired Mike Woodson and the rest of their coaching staff on Monday and Kerr, who won 3 titles as a player under Jackson in Chicago, is considered to be the frontrunner for the job.

Jackson wants to run the triangle, and Kerr certainly knows it. He also seems like a good basketball mind, and if Phil trusts him (which he does: Kerr had also been in line for a coaching job under Jackson in Seattle had Chris Hansen successfully managed to move the Kings there), then I trust him.

But the Knicks might want to be patient. There will be many coaches on the market this summer. Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, George Karl, Lionel Hollins, and others are all jobless. Mark Jackson and Frank Vogel might be next. The Knicks could try to somehow pry Tom Thibodeau from the Bulls. And who knows… with the Donald Sterling fiasco happening in LA right now, an apparently unhappy Doc Rivers might ask to be let out of his contract. From what Jackson said in his press conference a few days ago, it sound like he will take his time. Which he should.

But Kerr is the favorite right now, and now that he has met with Jackson in person to discuss the job, that might not change anytime soon.

-Tommy Rothman