Shepard: Thibodeau A Good Hire, But He’s Not The Knicks' Answer

Tom Thibodeau is a great coach, David Shepard says, but he alone can't fix the New York Knicks

CBS Sports Radio Weekend
July 27, 2020 - 5:20 pm
Tom Thibodeau

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Derrick Rose became the youngest regular season MVP in NBA history under Tom Thibodeau, (also known as Thibs) with the Chicago Bulls. Joakim Noah was Defensive Player of The Year and was All-NBA first-team under Thibodeau. Luol Deng was a multiple-time All-Star under Thibodeau. 

Here’s what has happened to all three of those guys since playing for Thibs FIVE years ago. Rose has not made a single All-Star game. Noah has started a total of 49 games. Deng is no longer in the NBA (and in his last three seasons, he played a total of 79 games). Deng is younger than LeBron, by the way. We know that Thibodeau absolutely gets the MOST out of his players. There is such a gap between what these three were with Thibs and what they were without him.

Thibodeau’s first head-coaching job was with the Bulls. The 12 years before Thibs got there, the Bulls had won just ONE playoff series. They won FOUR playoff series under Thibs in his five years with the Bulls. It would have been a lot more had their best player (Rose) been healthy for so many of those seasons. In the five years since letting go of Thibs, the Bulls have won two playoff GAMES. The next job for Thibodeau came in Minnesota, where, for the 12 years prior to his arrival, the Timberwolves had not made the playoffs once. They made the playoffs in his second year. Not only does Thibs get the most out of his players, he gets the most out of his teams. He turns franchises around, and when he leaves, there is a significant drop-off in terms of success. The Timberwolves, by the way, won less than 30 percent of their games this season. Thibs was obviously not their head coach.
If you are a New York Knicks fan reading this, you have to be feeling pretty good about this proven winner as a hire. With all the accolades that Thibs deserves thrown his way, the Knicks will not contend for a title because of his hiring as the Knicks’ new head coach. The Knicks will win a title if they do something different for the first time in 20 years. That’s KEEPING a head coach for at least four years. Knicks ownership needs to have PATIENCE. The Spurs have had ONE Head Coach in the last 24 years in Gregg Popovich. Since Jeff Van Gundy resigned 18 years ago, the Knicks have had THIRTEEN different head coaches. Not one of those coaches lasted four full seasons. It’s worth noting that many of these Knicks head coaches had some pretty good resumes and were far from ordinary coaches.

Larry Brown, one of the greatest coaches of all-time, was one of those Knicks head coaches in the last 18 years that fell short of four years. In fact, he lasted just one. Mike Woodson won 68 percent of the games he coached in his first two seasons with the Knicks. The next year he won more than 45 percent of his games and is not brought back. Mike D’Antoni, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, resigned midseason when he was with the Knicks. Lenny Wilkens, who had the most coaching wins of all-time when he was head coach of the Knicks, resigned midseason, too. What’s the commonality here? Most sports fans and pretty much all NBA fans know!

The Knicks have not lacked success because they haven’t had great coaches. They absolutely have – Hall of Fame Coaches at that. The problem is these coaches don't get the opportunity to last. Popular opinion is that the Knicks have struggled because of one person: James Dolan. He has been the owner of the Knicks for all of those 18 years in which they have had 13 head coaches and won just ONE playoff series. There is no getting around this. Dolan is the common denominator. To have such great names as coaches and to not keep at least one of those guys for at least four years, it makes you scratch your head!

Thibs has shown he can absolutely win and improve a franchise. None of that matters unless the Knicks’ culture changes, plain and simple. Fair or unfair, the leader sets the tone and culture for any company/organization/group of people. That is why if Thibs falls short of competing for an NBA title, fans will not point the finger at Thibs; it will be strongly in the direction of Dolan. When there are 13 head-coaching changes in 18 years, the problem isn’t the head coach. The problem is the culture. 

Many Celtics fans were clamoring for Doc Rivers to be fired after three years of very unimpressive basketball before the 2007-08 NBA Season. Year four, they did acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, BUT they remained patient with Rivers instead of bringing in somebody else. The Celtics dominated that entire season and ultimately won the NBA title. 

Coaches need time to forge those relationships with players and need time to build their own culture of winning within the framework of a locker room. Patience is a virtue, but that can only be true if there is patience from the top. The Knicks’ answer isn’t Tom Thibodeau; the Knicks’ answer to truly competing is patience!

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.