New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau in Game 7...

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau in Game 7 at MSG vs. the Pacers on May 19, 2024. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Knicks' front office is facing a series of tough questions this summer, deciding how much faith they have in the current roster, star-chasing or healing and hoping for better fortune, and financially locking in the present and future of the team. But there is one simple decision for Leon Rose and the franchise leadership to focus on — extending the contract of head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Thibodeau is heading into the final season of his five-year deal — a contract that was made to coincide with the deals of the front-office leaders. The price has gotten high for the top coaches — Golden State’s Steve Kerr agreed to a two-year, $35 million extension while Erik Spoelstra signed an eight-year, $120 million deal to remain long-term in Miami. There is no salary cap on coaches, and Thibodeau in making the Knicks relevant again has the calculators humming at Madison Square Garden.

“That’s something that my agent will take care of,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s season-ending loss. “The Knicks have been great to me. So this is where I want to be.”

A recounting of his accomplishments — three playoff berths in four seasons, his second NBA Coach of the Year award, back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals, a place the franchise had reached just once in the prior 22 seasons — would be enough to make this a no-brainer.

But maybe a history lesson of what life was like at Madison Square Garden before Thibodeau arrived is necessary. The Knicks had gone through a dozen head coaches in the nearly two decades since Jeff Van Gundy departed. An easy indicator of what that was like is that only two (Mike D’Antoni and Larry Brown) ever got another shot at an NBA head coaching job.

Even with the frustrating ending to the season, it has become clear that Thibodeau is the centerpiece around which the organizational restructuring took hold. And while Thibodeau has had his critics, predicting that his hard-nosed style has an expiration date, he has adapted. Even softened.

“I think Thibs has the same mindset we do as a team,” Jalen Brunson said. “Thibs is the reason why we have that mindset, Thibs is the reason why night in and night out, we fight to the best of our abilities. even though things may not be in our favor, result-wise. He makes sure that we have that mindset night in and night out.

“So I think he's evolved by just, he sees everything that everyone says. I think when it comes to us, we don't really care what the people on the outside think of us. We don't care what people say, positive or negative. We go forward with what we believe is the best course of action inside this building inside the organization and so on. I think the way that he has evolved is that his players in that locker room have his back no matter what.”

Thibodeau has a reputation for overusing his stars, but the numbers don’t bear it out with the current roster — even as the Knicks season ended with a long list of injured players. The Knicks' stars didn’t rank among the league leaders in minutes played. Even when the playoff minutes were boosted there were no complaints and none of the injuries were related to overuse. His players have openly fought back, pointing out that Thibodeau has managed practice with no contact and more rest and recovery than any team they’ve been a part of in their careers.

If the outside critics have been proved wrong, the most important voices are inside the building. Thibodeau has the support of not just Rose, but equally important, Brunson. With the most important player in his corner and others following along, Thibodeau has a team built in his image and on board with all of his demands.

“Obviously I’m not too up to speed on what it was before he was here, but he’s been Coach of the Year, got this team to the playoffs, got this team to the second round, and you know, barring injuries, could have went further,” Josh Hart said. “So I think you’re seeing the foundation that he’s built, but we know getting to be a championship team is not flipping a switch and one season you just get there. We know you’ve got to continue to build, and that’s something that he’s done, something he built the foundation for. And it gives this city and this franchise hope moving forward.”


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