GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Tom Thibodeau seemed relaxed as he spoke after the Knicks first practice session of training camp, sporting a new beard and joking about some of his players comments and at his own internet prowess. But when the subject of pressure on him arose, a reasonable question after the dismal season the Knicks went through and the finger-pointing that came with it, he launched in a sharp defense of his work and insisted it is not a concern.
"I've never felt pressure, ever,” Thibodeau said. “See, when you put everything you have into your job, that's all you can do. So I've never felt pressure. Others can say this, that. That ain't happening here. Just get ready. I've been at this a long time. I approach it the same way. I put everything I have into each and every day. I'm willing to live with that result. There's no one — no one — who studies this team harder than I do.”
It is that work ethic that earned Thibodeau his second NBA Coach of the Year award in his first season in New York two years ago. But when the team slipped back from a playoff team to the draft lottery, there were critics — many on the internet where he does not reside and in the crowd at Madison Square Garden and even in the Knicks organization. His old-school insistence on playing every game to win — a novel approach in an organization that struggled for two decades before he arrived — at the expense of handing minutes to the younger players or playing for more Ping-Pong balls in the lottery had some people calling for his job.
But he came to New York at the urging of Knicks team president Leon Rose and last week, speaking on the team network, Rose said he didn’t believe the coach was on a hot seat.
“I don't see it that way at all,” Rose said. “You know, the way I see it is we're continuing with the plan. We're not making any excuses for anything that happened last year. And you know, we're just, I love Thibs' phrase: We're going to win or we're going to learn. . . . We're going to be looking to get better in any way, shape, or form we can, but no, Thibs OK. Two years ago [he was] coach of the year and he's been twice Coach of the Year in his career. I'm so excited about this team and you know, about starting on Tuesday and one of the reasons I'm so excited is having Thibs lead the group.”
The Knicks brought back much of the same squad with some of the same dilemmas facing the coach — how to find minutes for Obi Toppin behind Julius Randle, who to start in the backcourt next to Jalen Brunson, Evan Fournier or Quentin Grimes.
“it’s based on performance — who fits better,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not fantasy basketball, it’s what makes the group work best. So that’s what we’ll do. I like the way [Toppin is] growing. We’ve got to get the best out of everyone.”
Notes & quotes: Thibodeau sidestepped questions about whether the team conducted an internal investigation before adding Brunson’s father, Rick, to the coaching staff. The elder Brunson has a long relationship with Leon Rose and Thibodeau, serving on Thibodeau’s staff in prior coaching stops, but resigned in Minnesota in 2018 amid allegations of sexual harassment.
“ I would say in general our organization is going to vet everyone,” Thibodeau said. “That’s normal protocol now. I’m not exactly sure everything that was done. When they hire anyone, they’re going to vet him. That’s corporate America. I’ve known Rick a long time. I’m very comfortable with who he is. He’s been on my staff. I’ve known him since he was in college. I feel strongly about him.”