GREENBURGH, N.Y. — At the start of last season the Knicks were embarking on their first journey with Tom Thibodeau as head coach, devoid of expectations from the outside and learning the hard lessons imposed by the hard-nosed coach with COVID-19 still forcing them to isolate for individual or small work groups.
While they convened Tuesday for the first official day of training camp without the championship expectations that some teams were carrying, there was a sense of familiarity and continuity. Thibodeau’s system already has been put in place with more than half the roster returning for a second time around. Even with a shortened offseason there have been enough familiar faces around already to impart the lessons to the newcomers.
"You try to make the best of whatever your circumstances are," Thibodeau said. "So we probably had a little more time to spend one-on-one developing relationships. At the beginning of the season you couldn’t go out so you were together all of the time. Once you got to the hotel that’s where you were. So there were a lot of individual film sessions, individual workouts, then the team workouts.
"So I think in some ways it did benefit us. In other ways it probably slowed us down a little bit, but having the right veterans helps you get through those things. You get great veteran leadership and we always say that your actions will reflect your priorities. So if you’re doing the right things, when the young guys come in and they see the vets working the way that they do, it’s a great example, it’s the best leadership that you can have."
Thibodeau praised some of the team leaders like Julius Randle and RJ Barrett and it undoubtedly helped to have players familiar with him from prior coaching stops like Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson on board. But he also noted that last year’s rookies, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin, already have stepped forward to set examples along with those veterans for the newcomers to this camp.
"Right from the end of last season Quick and Obi were in," he said. "And then when we drafted the young guys that we got, they came in and they saw the way that they were working. And then our veterans are periodically here — Julius spent a lot of time here and RJ spent a lot of time here. So I think once you have that type of tone set by the vets, everyone comes in with the understanding of, OK, I want to be part of this and I want to help the team get better."
"As a team, it’s big for our chemistry," Quickley said. "And [to] me, it’s big — just understanding everything. I understand my time schedule … or just little things. How to eat right. It’s just a whole different feeling coming back your second year. You’re more comfortable. It’s everything. As a team, understanding where Julius [Randle] wants the ball, understanding where RJ [Barrett] likes to get his shots. So coming back in Year two it’s definitely more comfortable.
"[Setting examples is] what we try to do. As soon as we learn new information, we pass that along to guys who are coming and who are new. That way we can get them up to speed and move things along as quick as possible. So anything I learned I try to teach to other guys."
Notes & quotes: Mitchell Robinson was on the court at times during workouts, but is not practicing as he continues to rehabilitate from surgery for a broken foot … Luca Vildoza is also in a walking boot and unable to practice. The Knicks have one roster spot open currently and Vildoza is competing for it, but his contract is not guaranteed. "Right now, you base it on the guys that are available and who can help the team the most," Thibodeau said. "And so we have all camp to figure that out … You practice more and you play your preseason games, and then you look at ‘OK, who fits our team the best? And what do we need out of that position? And so that's what we'll look at when we make the final decision."