Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford have a lot in common. They both helm tough, defensive-minded teams that made the Eastern Conference playoffs. They both have less than a full head of hair.
And, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News likes to constantly remind Knicks fans, both men were assistant coaches for the New York Knicks during the Jeff Van Gundy era:
Steve Clifford & Tom Thibodeau were assistants on that 2000 Knicks team. Thankfully, Dolan fired those 2 bums. Whatever became of them?— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 20, 2014
The franchise did have a chance to promote from within after Van Gundy unexpectedly tendered his resignation during the 2001-02 season, but the front office chose assistant coach Don Chaney, the only coach left on the roster with actual NBA head coaching experience.
It was the beginning of a familiar pattern during the James Dolan era, whereby the Knicks would only choose retread coaches. Chaney begat Lenny Wilkens, who begat Larry Brown, who begat Isiah Thomas, who begat Mike D'Antoni, who begat Mike Woodson. Each coach was a retread, and once Woodson is inevitably fired, each coach failed to last at least four seasons.
In the meantime, Thibodeau just finished his fourth season with the Bulls, and his team has made the playoffs every year during his tenure.
Back in December, the coach shot down rumors he might be wooed over to the Knicks in the offseason, per Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago:
I don’t pay any attention to any of that stuff. To me, the only thing I have to do is concentrate on our team, our next opponent, our improvement and never get away from that. There’s a lot of stuff that gets thrown out there that’s just B.S., so if you pay any attention, it does no good. It takes you away from what’s important, and what’s important right now is our improvement and getting ready for the next game.
Thibodeau and Clifford aren't the only two people with Knicks ties remaining in the playoffs. In fact, six of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams have at least one member of the coaching or front office staff with New York ties:
- Bulls (Thibodeau )
- Bobcats (Clifford and assistant coach Patrick Ewing, whom Knicks fans probably remember.)
- Miami Heat (President of basketball operations Pat Riley used to coach the Knicks in the '90s. In a related note, most Knicks fans consider him to be the devil incarnate.)
- Indiana Pacers (Front office consultant Donnie Walsh was the Knicks' general manager from 2008 to 2011.)
- Brooklyn Nets (Head coach Jason Kidd played for the Knicks in 2012-13.)
- Atlanta Hawks (Assistant coach Steve Atkinson was an assistant under D'Antoni in New York.)
In a delicious bit of irony, New York might have started moving away from the past the moment they hired former Knick player Phil Jackson.
The Zen Master does not seem interested in hiring another retread. Instead, he is looking to a candidate with no previous head coaching experience in Steve Kerr, per the New York Post's George Willis. New York hasn't hired a first-time head coach since promoting Van Gundy in the late-'90s.
Of course, that worked out pretty well. Perhaps the Knicks will do better once they stop focusing on the past and start bringing in some new blood.