While the Knicks are expected to lose one member of their coaching staff this week, a report has surfaced that Tom Thibodeau will be back for a third season at the helm.
Kenny Payne is expected to be introduced as the next coach at the University of Louisville Friday, a move that is just awaiting the final approval of the school board Thursday. But much more important to the Knicks fortunes, Bleacher Report has it that the Knicks are expected to bring Thibodeau back, ending speculation that he could be dismissed in the wake of this disappointing season.
And it’s a move that should probably be met with a collective sigh of relief among the organization and even the most ardent critics in the Knicks’ fan base. While the Knicks have spent more than two decades mired in turmoil, Thibodeau has provided a grown-up at the helm.
"I wouldn’t see why not," RJ Barrett said after the Knicks' 128-98 win over Portland Wednesday. "He’s a great coach. We all love him. We all play hard for him. So we believe in him. I’ve gotten a lot better while playing for him, just his staff as a whole. I wouldn’t see why not."
It’s hard to imagine Thibodeau would be dismissed one season after providing a stabilizing base to the franchise, earning NBA Coach of the Year honors while guiding the team to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, a 41-31 record and the first playoff berth in eight seasons. But with the regression to the 28-40 record the team brought into Wednesday night’s game against Portland at Madison Square Garden fingers have been pointed and some were in Thibodeau’s direction.
It is rare that any coach feels stable these days, but Thibodeau, with three more years left on his contract, could have been forgiven for believing he could avoid this sort of dysfunction. He arrived to a franchise in disrepair, but one headed by Leon Rose as team president, who had served as his agent for much of his coaching career.
But numerous NBA sources indicated that William Wesley, Rose’s righthand man and some believe the true power broker in the organization as executive vice president, was in Garden Chairman James Dolan’s ear this season, blaming Thibodeau for the failures of the revamped roster this season.
Some of the blame could fall on the front office for the moves made in the summer, signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to bolster the offense. While Fournier has delivered almost as expected, the inability of Walker to fit before finally shutting down for the season left the Knicks with a disjointed lineup. It is a drastic drop from last year’s defensive success and not enough of an offensive boost to counter slippage from Julius Randle off his second-team All-NBA season.
Tuesday at practice, Thibodeau was asked if he had any assurances from the front office with the team unlikely to make the playoffs and he said, "I don’t worry about any of that stuff. Just coach the team. Coach the team, get ready for the next day. Never have. I know what I put into the job."
Asked Wednesday if he had any comment on this Bleacher Report story, he said, "I told you yesterday, I don’t worry about any of that stuff."
Dolan has stepped back in recent years and a team source indicated that he would allow Rose to make the call on all basketball decisions and it would be hard for Rose and the front office to make a coaching change when Thibodeau was their hire without putting themselves on the clock.
It is coincidental timing, but apropos that Payne would be departing as Thibodeau is set to return. Payne was one of three coaches along with Mike Woodson and associate head coach Johnnie Bryant that were installed by the front office.
Woodson already left for Indiana to coach his alma mater and now Payne is poised to do the same. This could present Thibodeau with a chance to add staff members loyal to him like Andy Greer, Darren Erman and Dice Yoshimoto. Ed Pinkney was an assistant on his staff in Chicago and Minnesota and Rick Brunson, besides being part of Thibodeau’s staff in Minnesota and the first NBA client ever for Rose, is the father of Jalen Brunson, who could be a target for the Knicks this summer.