LAS VEGAS — Tom Thibodeau wasn’t high on Phil Jackson’s list of coaching candidates, but he’s high on the Knicks.
Thibodeau said Jackson has put together “a good team,” and he knows some key pieces very well. Thibodeau coached Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah all five seasons he was with Chicago, and thinks their skills, mental toughness and personality are perfect for the Knicks.
“When you add veterans like that it adds a lot to your team,” Thibodeau, a U.S. Men’s Olympic team assistant coach, said following Tuesday’s practice. “They know how to play. They’ve been in big games. They’re unselfish. They play to win. So that’s a big plus.”
Thibodeau was the coach many Knicks fans wanted Jackson to hire this offseason. Instead Jackson picked Jeff Hornacek.
Thibodeau was 255-139 with the Bulls, and widely considered the best coach available. He also has ties to the Knicks, where he was an assistant coach for seven years when they were perennial playoff teams. He ended up being hired as president and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jackson didn’t interview Thibodeau, who wouldn’t say if he received a call from the Knicks’ president.
“I’m not going there,” Thibodeau said. “I’m fine. I got the job I wanted. I’m happy. I have great guys. I wish them well. That’s it.”
Thibodeau, who doesn’t reveal much, had nothing but superlatives for his former players. They both grew and developed into All-Stars under Thibodeau.
Rose was the 2010-11 NBA MVP and the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals that year. Noah won the Defensive Player of the Year three years later. Thibodeau has no doubt they will succeed with the Knicks and mesh well with holdovers Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
“They’ve already proven themselves so it’s good for them,” Thibodeau said. “I think it will work out fine. They have a good team. The way Melo plays, Porzingis, Courtney Lee — they’re going to be good.”
If Rose can stay healthy, he will add a dimension the Knicks haven’t had in years if not decades — an explosive, penetrating point guard who can score, demands attention and sets up his teammates. Noah also has attributes and attitude that the Knicks have craved.
“What’s not to like?” Thibodeau said. “He’s unselfish and plays to win. Great player. He makes other players better. Can really pass. Great defender. Great rebounder. He plays for the team. He’ll be terrific.”
With both players, health is a concern. Noah missed 78 games the past two seasons. Rose has missed 228 games over the past five seasons. But he played in 66 last year, his most since his MVP season.
“It’s the first time he’s been healthy in a long time so that’s a big plus,” Thibodeau said.
Both players are from big cities, so Thibodeau isn’t worried about how either will deal with the pressures and scrutiny that await them in New York.
“Those guys, they’re well beyond that,” Thibodeau said. “You have to remember, Derrick is from Chicago and Joakim is from New York. They can handle it.”