NBA trade deadline brings pressure for Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office
Tom Thibodeau likes to focus on the things that he can control. When asked about the pressure put on him and the Knicks by Garden chairman James Dolan, who last week publicly expressed his belief that they will make the playoffs, Thibodeau deflected that expectation. He has the simple mantra that the team will work hard and “if you’re doing all you can each and every day, you never feel pressure.”
While it sounded good, there is a long history of executives and coaches who may have done all they could do and still were discarded by the franchise. And the reality for Thibodeau and the Knicks is that they find themselves in a precarious position right now.
They are 27-24 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, in the play-in tournament seeding, one game out of a playoff spot. And if you want to consider the downside to that, they are three games ahead of the Chicago Bulls and 11th place.
With just over a week left until the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline, there is pressure, even if Thibodeau really doesn’t feel it. The Knicks have the second-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA and have been maddeningly inconsistent.
The last 28 games have included eight straight wins, followed by five consecutive losses, followed by seven wins in the next eight games, followed by four straight losses. That brought the Knicks to the last three games — surprising wins over Cleveland and Boston before Saturday’s loss to the Nets.
“I think you want to be mentally tough,” Thibodeau said. “You have to understand that it’s a long season and there’s things that go into it sometimes. Sometimes it’s travel. Sometimes it’s schedule. Sometimes it’s the bounce of the ball. Like you can play really well and at the end, you miss a shot, they tip one in or whatever. But keep moving forward. No matter what happens, learn, get better.’’
The pressure might be more on the front office than on Thibodeau. After having to attach draft picks to get rid of contracts they acquired (Kemba Walker, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks), they have a trio of veterans who are confined to the bench in Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish. The Knicks could use help on the second unit and have been rumored to be involved in trade possibilities for Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen.
“We’re young,” Thibodeau said. “We know that a big part of learning is trial and error, so our young guys are getting better day by day, and that’s what I’m excited about. I know there’s a tremendous amount of growth they’ve already had, and I think there’s more to come.
“So keep pushing forward. That’s all we want to lock into. And I think when you look at our league, I think with the way the scoring is, the variance of three-point shooting, there’s been a lot of swings like that . . . That’s part of the league. How do you handle it? Don’t get down. If you win eight in a row, don’t feel too good about yourself. You lose a couple, you’ve got more determination to turn things around.''