After a long search process and nearly a week since making a decision, the Knicks finally made it official Thursday morning, announcing Tom Thibodeau as their next head coach.
The Knicks did not disclose terms of the agreement, but according to a league source the 62-year-old Thibodeau has agreed to a five-year deal to join on with his longtime agent and friend, team president Leon Rose.
Thibodeau, who spent seven seasons (1996-2003) as an assistant coach with the Knicks during the franchise's last period of sustained contending, said that the presence of Rose and William Wesley at the top of the organizational chart and the chance to return to New York outweighed the possibility of waiting for a more ready-to-win-now job someplace else.
“I think that’s part of the equation obviously, my relationship with them,” Thibodeau said in a Zoom news conference. “I’ve known them for over two decades. They’ve been involved in just about every major decision that I’ve made. As I mentioned, it’s always been my dream job. So the fact that it’s my dream job and those guys are there, it just seemed to make a lot of sense to me. And of course the way it’s positioned, the current roster that we have, the draft picks that we’ve stockpiled and then, of course, the cap space.”
He takes over a team that was 21-45 this season, fired a coach 22 games in and has been left out of the NBA’s restart. But he has taken on challenges like this before. His last stop was in Minnesota, where he took a franchise that had not made the playoffs in 13 seasons and led them to 47 wins in his second year there. The Knicks are an even more daunting task right now with a roster lacking a can’t-miss star among the young players and a cast of veterans who are almost all on expiring contracts and could be gone before next season.
“You go step by step,” Thibodeau said. “You don’t skip over anything. The first thing is you lay the foundation, develop a plan and then work the plan. The steps are incremental. You don’t make major jumps without going through each step. So I think the first step is to establish the work ethic and how we want to play.”
Rose agreed. “We have not set a timeline,” he said. “We are taking it one day at a time. We felt Tom was that coach who can take us with development to becoming a perennial winner. That happens one step at a time. At the moment we don’t know what the roster will be moving forward. We have decisions we have to make. The important thing is to instil the culture, focus on the development and take it from there.”
Thibodeau has been a constant on the sidelines since leaving the Knicks in 2003, joining staffs in Houston and Boston before becoming a head coach in Chicago and Minnesota. After compiling a 255-139 record in Chicago with three seasons of at least 50 wins, his time in Minnesota was brief, bringing the Timberwolves to the playoffs but being let go in the middle of the ensuing season amid turmoil with some of the young players griping.
He spent last season without a job, but took the time to vacation, joking, “I went on vacation a couple times. I know people don’t think I do that. But I got away and laid on a beach in Miami for a couple of weeks. So that was fun.”
But when he wasn’t on the beach he made the rounds to visit with teams around the league, watching practices, learning and readying for his next opportunity.
“For me, I loved having the opportunity to step away,” he said. “You never want to stay the same. Part of it was just to recharge and get away and relax, and the other part was to learn. Whatever your circumstances are at that particular time, you try to make the most of those. I have a lot of friends in the league. I had an opportunity to go out and spend time with Doc Rivers. I spent a lot of time out there with him. Spent time in Boston. I spent time down in Miami, spent some time out at Golden State and Orlando with Steve Clifford.
“It was great. It allows you to keep up with the league. You get new ideas. You get different ideas. Sometimes you get confirmations of something you were doing or you see a better way to do something. I enjoy that. When you’re in the middle of it, sometimes you don’t have time to do stuff like that.”