The New York Knicks have taken their tragicomic franchise dysfunction to new heights this season, making headlines more frequently than ever for personnel issues, on-court blunders and just about anything else any reputable head coach doesn’t want to see.
Count Tom Thibodeau among them. The Chicago Bulls’ former Coach of the Year Award winner has recently been rumored to consider leaving his team, replacing Mike Woodson in New York next season. Thibodeau has laughed the rumors off—as he should.
The theory doesn’t add up.
Despite friction between Thibodeau and his Chicago front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman—largely stemming from the dismissal of longtime coaching partner Ron Adams, as well as the Luol Deng trade—the coach knows better than to jump over to the Knicks’ particular ship.
If Thibodeau is frustrated with his management now, one can only imagine how dramatically it would boil his blood to behold the seemingly endless spell of tremendous short-sightedness in New York. The Knicks have been on a losing streak of basketball decisions since shortly after Thibodeau’s time with the team, as an aide to Jeff Van Gundy over a decade ago.
An in-depth history of the team’s mistakes under James Dolan’s ownership has been written elsewhere.
A serviceable, truncated version can be mostly inferred from this list of names: Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Raymond Felton, Steve Francis, Allan Houston, David Lee, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Eddy Curry and, of course, J.R. Smith.
Overpaid and underpaid, vitriolic, lazy—the Knicks have had an impressive run of false splashes and mismatched characters. Their roster is a consistent symposium in professional sports folly.
J.R. Smith—the primary reason for the team’s latest No. 1 franchise financial evaluation by Forbes—is only the latest clown prince of Madison Square Garden, which is bound to host more of them so long as Dolan’s around.
Like Mikhail Prokhorov across the bridge with the Brooklyn Nets, Dolan is an owner too financially padded and too full of the desire for glory to ever make many good choices.
Tom Thibodeau couldn’t stand for such a thing. Losing Deng is bad enough—imagine if he’d lost him for the likes of new Knick Andrea Bargnani, the contract albatross most assumed the Toronto Raptors wouldn’t be able to trade anywhere.
Bargnani is both a typical Knick acquisition and the antithesis of a “Thibodeau guy.” He’s a 7-footer who can’t rebound, defend or generally grit his way through anything—the only saving grace of his game is his occasionally potent perimeter shooting. His huge contract is based more off of potential and reputation than results.
For an idea of Bargnani's defensive capabilities, see the video below:
The only reasonable scenario involving Thibodeau defecting to New York has the team clearing its roster of such onerous talents, and also somehow sending the signal that they’ve corrected their patterns.
What would this signal look like?
The swiftest way to send it would be Dolan stepping down from basketball duties, and hiring a new general manager who's not a puppet like Steve Mills currently is. Then, they'd likely have to remake their roster to woo Thibodeau.
On the heels of the Bargnani trade and Smith’s contract extension, creating such an impression is no small feat. Especially given Smith’s crescendoing shenanigans, and the way that the team has hamstrung itself in terms of salary flexibility. They’re more than over the cap, and are without many draft picks as they’ve given so many of them away in trades. Per Real GM, the team has seven outgoing picks in the next four drafts, three of which are first-rounders.
Barring the unlikely event of a major shakeup this summer, in which Carmelo Anthony is a free agent but widely expected to re-sign, this Knicks core is here to stay.
However much the Bulls may have fudged their relationship with Thibodeau, it’s clear that the squad he has in Chicago is far more cohesive and suited to his intense, physical, level-headed blue-collar ideology than the mess of a roster in New York. It also seems a quite slim possibility that Dolan would ever cede to the obsessive Thibodeau the lion's share of cultural sway he needs in order to truly make an impact.
Chicago’s front office has made its fair share of errors. But if Thibodeau left them for these Knicks, it’d be his mistake.