When Tom Thibodeau was last seen, he was declaring that upon the team’s return from the All-Star break — when the Knicks embark on the final 23 games of the season — things would change, with everything on the table. And as of Monday, after days of speculation, Thibodeau being pushed out the door by a finger-pointing group of front-office executives wasn’t one of the changes.
One season removed from earning his second Coach of the Year award, Thibodeau hasn’t suddenly changed, but the team has — and he is desperate to find a way to right things before the season ends.
"Everything’s on the table now," he said. "It has to be. It’s got to be merit-based. It has to be. I’m not just going to give minutes to give minutes.
"You look at everything. What are you going to do? How are we going to manage this? It has to be merit-based. A guy is playing good, he plays. If the team is functioning well when he’s on the floor, he should play.
"That’s the most important thing. The team has to come first for everyone. This can’t be about what’s best for any one individual. It’s what’s best for the group. That’s the way it’s got to be.
"We have to do what we have to do. We got a chance to reset here. We all have to take a hard look at what’s going on and we got to figure out how we can do it better."
1 Give Thibodeau the keys
The decision by Thibodeau to come to New York and help turn around the franchise stemmed in no small part from his long relationship with team president Leon Rose. The two still talk every day, but while Rose has remained silent, publicly there has been the far-too-familiar corporate sniping aimed at the coach. Revamping the roster was understandable, but there is no one in the organization with a better track record. Let Thibodeau coach without second-guessing from the peanut gallery.
2 A Rose is a Rose
While Leon Rose has been hidden through the troubles this season, Derrick Rose remains a key to Thibodeau’s game plans. Last season, Rose’s arrival coincided with the Knicks’ second-half push to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Rose, sidelined since Dec. 16, is still rehabilitating from ankle surgery. Thibodeau needs him on the court to stabilize the team.
3 Grimes time
Quentin Grimes represents a perfect Venn diagram of Thibodeau’s insistence on earning minutes and fans pleading for a move to give minutes to the young players. We wrote last month that inserting Grimes in the starting lineup could fit. Not at point guard, but Thibodeau happily lived with Elfrid Payton in that spot last season. A true point guard is a luxury the Knicks may need — but not right now, with Julius Randle serving as a point forward anyway. The rookie brings the toughness Thibodeau craves, shoots three-pointers at a higher percentage than anyone else on the team other than Rose and defends multiple positions.
4 Reality check
While we’re talking about Grimes and youth movements, remember the Knicks are giving huge minutes to Grimes, 21-year-old RJ Barrett and 23-year-old Mitchell Robinson. But there does need to be some perspective: The Knicks are in that terrible middle world, not bad enough to be piling up the best lottery odds and not good enough to think they can compete with the top teams in the playoffs. Long term, would they be better off going 15-8 the rest of the way or 8-15? And can they get back that first-round pick they already traded?
Randle showed a return to form in the lead-up to the All-Star break, averaging 29.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the last seven games. While his shooting percentages still were far below last season even in this stretch, he did show the effort and fire that he displayed last season, a change from the seemingly distant mood swings he went through earlier this season when he was flashing thumbs-down at the Garden fans.