There are still contracts to be signed and introductions to be conducted, but Tom Thibodeau could shortly be given the opportunity to begin implementing his plans for the Knicks’ roster.
With a news conference expected later this week to officially introduce Thibodeau as the next coach of the Knicks, he arrives at a time when the franchise is in a sort of limbo. While 22 teams have been working out for weeks and scrimmaging for the last week, readying to resume the NBA schedule and playoffs, the Knicks are one of eight teams that have been left out and their practice facility has been gathering dust.
But that could change quickly. First reported by the Charlotte Observer, the NBA and NBPA are expected to come to an agreement that could allow those eight teams outside the bubble to begin workouts soon. Individual workouts with coaches could begin as soon as next week, and while the Observer reported that teams could get a week of voluntary team workouts, a league source indicated that the team training camp, similar to the NFL's OTAs, could go on for three weeks, evening the playing field for all teams to have work accomplished during this time frame.
For Thibodeau, this would be crucial to his hopes of implementing his system and getting a closeup look at the roster he is inheriting. The heart of his roster will be the young players on the team who are under contract — RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Eight veterans on the roster are potential free agents, with either a team option for next season or their contract expiring.
While team president Leon Rose clearly has his work cut out for him improving the roster, right now Thibodeau’s first task will be to make the pieces already in place play better. While there has been criticism of the workload he puts on players, coaches who have worked with Thibodeau dismiss the notion and insist that he excels at developing young players.
“I kind of laugh at all these people that say he can’t develop younger players and that he just wears his teams out,” Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams, who worked with Thibodeau on Team USA for a number of years, said on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “Look at the success with his programs and his teams and the results bear witness. You talk to guys who played for Thibs, they love him.”
“I think like all great head coaches in basketball he has multiple strengths,” Jeff Van Gundy said in a phone call last week. “The mistake analyzing from the outside trying to pigeonhole him as just a defensive coach. He is incredible as a defensive teacher. But his best teams in Chicago and Minnesota, if you look at every statistical measurement they were terrific offensive teams. He’s really good with players at all stages of their career, rookies and young people, veterans. He can help guys who are perimeter players and guys who are inside players.
“[When he was hired by me] he was the guy now known as player development. Back then it was just known as making your players better. Besides that, he had this thirst for execution, for precision, that I thought was remarkable. I had known of him since he was an assistant at Harvard and I was a graduate assistant at Providence . . . The dude was so precise in all of his teaching. I think he helped all of the staff be more precise. He helped me immensely. I learned as much from him as he could have ever hoped to learn from me.”