More than six months after they last walked off the court together the Knicks players got a chance to get on the floor for group workouts. And while they greeted familiar faces they got their first chance to go through a full practice session under the leadership of new coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Knicks, one of the eight teams left out of the NBA bubble restart, went through individual sessions last week and now can conduct two weeks of group sessions while maintaining their own bubble from COVID-19, taking over a Manhattan hotel and bussing to the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Westchester County.
For Thibodeau, it’s the first chance to see the roster he inherited — one that he is unsure will be on hand when next season begins with a long list of potential free agents and a draft that won’t take place until November.
"The first part is all about building a foundation, getting to know the guys," Thibodeau said in a Zoom call. "Every time we have an opportunity to get together on the floor there’s a benefit for us. We’ve had a lot of guys come in the last six weeks. That’s been beneficial.
"As of right now we don’t know when next season will begin. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. It’s a little unusual in terms of players have a routine they get used to on when the next season is coming. It’s a little different now. It’s been good for us because we’ve been off so long. We’ve been able to get a lot out of it. I like the fact we’ve been able to get together. We have a date for the draft. That will be helpful. And free agency, we’ll find that out, too."
Nearly the entire roster had been a part of the individual workouts, one on one sessions with the new coaching staff. The young players on the team still under contract were all expected to participate in the group session, but Mitchell Robinson opted out for what a source would only describe as, "Personal reasons."
"I don’t want to get into specifics because this is all voluntary," Thibodeau said. "We’ve had a great turnout thus far. There was phase one where we weren’t in a hotel and we had a terrific turnout for that. This next phase where there’s contact involved, some guys weren’t totally comfortable with that, so we totally understood that part of it. But they’ve also come in prior to that and spent quite a bit of time which has been very beneficial for me. It’s given me a chance to get to know them and sort of establish how we’re going about our business. Also, getting a new staff in and giving us an opportunity to work together as well."
The Knicks have not only had to wait out the long gap since the NBA shutdown on March 11, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that next season likely won’t begin until at least January. So Thibodeau, along with his assistants, are teaching a new system that will again have a long wait until he can implement it.
"I think that’s a big challenge in the NBA — how quickly can you adapt?" Thibodeau said. "Because things always change in the league, whether it’s trade, free agency, an injury. You have to adapt quickly. So for us, the focus has to be on the guys who are here. And that’s what we’re doing. So every day we’re thinking about how we can improve as a team and how we can improve individually. And we want that to be our focus. We want to stack days together. We know it starts with fundamentals. We have to build that base and then we’ll take it from there."