Knicks Rumors: Tom Thibodeau 'Confident'; Called 'Heavy Favorite' to Be Next HC

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2020

Minnesota Timberwolves' head coach Tom Thibodeau calls out to his team during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 108-86. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

Tom Thibodeau is reportedly considered such a "heavy favorite" for the New York Knicks' head coaching job that he's begun making exploratory calls to compile a staff.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reported the job is "Thibodeau's to lose." The team is expected to consider Mike Miller and Kenny Atkinson, and there remains an off chance John Calipari leaves Kentucky for New York, but Thibodeau appears in line for his third NBA head coaching job.

Thibodeau previously coached the Chicago Bulls from 2010-15 and the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2016-19, compiling a 352-246 record. He is still under contract with the Timberwolves through the 2020-21 season, which Thibodeau says gives him some leeway in deciding his future.

He said earlier this month on ESPN's First Take:

"They're just rumors. That's what it is. This time of year everything is on hold. Normally, you would have some openings, and right now there aren't any openings. So you don't want to speculate on what jobs could open, but that's what you have an agent for. He'll certainly look at, if there is an opportunity, whether it'd be a good match or not.

"I'm still under contract with Minnesota, so I feel like I'm in a position where I can be patient."

While Thibodeau would be the most accomplished coach the Knicks have hired in more than a decade, there are concerns whether he'd be a good fit with their rebuilding roster. The coach had trouble reaching Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, among others, in Minnesota and presided over a locker room that fell apart after Jimmy Butler's trade request in 2018.

Towns told WCCO's Cory Hepola the culture under Thibodeau was a "slap in the face" to young player development, saying he was glad 2019 first-round pick Jarrett Culver would get to play under Ryan Saunders. Towns also told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic that he was held back to "40 percent" of his talent level because of "situational things."

Thibodeau's track record was better in Chicago, with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng all becoming All-Stars during his tenure. However, Rose, Deng and Noah were all on an upward trajectory when Thibodeau took the Bulls job. Butler is by far Thibodeau's best developmental project, but even he grew less fond of the coach during their reunion in Minnesota.

"Hell yeah it's different," Butler said on Hot Ones. "Buzz Williams, who is a lot like Thibs in the sense that they're going to yell at you, they're going to motherf--ker you, they're going to say it all, that's how they talk to you. I think in the league you can't really talk to nobody like that. You know what I mean?"

It's possible Thibodeau's year-and-a-half out of basketball mellowed him enough to adjust his message. The Knicks job will also allow Thibodeau to return to coaching only after having personnel control in Minnesota.

But hiring a coach with Thibs' personality type for a young roster is a significant risk. The Knicks already appear to have failed in developing 2017 first-round pick Frank Ntilikina and 2018 first-rounder Kevin Knox. The jury is still out on 2019 pick RJ Barrett, and the Knicks could have another top-five selection in this year's draft.

Finding a coach who can be patient in handling the waters of a long-term rebuild will be paramount to the Knicks' possible return to playoff contention.