When Tom Thibodeau was fired as Timberwolves head coach/president of basketball operations in the middle of the 2018-19 season, some wondered if he would ever get another shot as a head coach in the NBA.
In New York, meanwhile, Knicks fans constantly wonder what team owner James Dolan can do to revamp a franchise that has largely been both a failure and a laughingstock of the league during his two decades at the helm.
Maybe the answer is … for Thibodeau and Dolan to join forces?
That apparently is a real possibility. In the midst of a flurry of tweets about the NBA’s restart plans on Thursday, Adrian Wojnarowski dropped this little nugget out there: “As the Knicks season ends now, President Leon Rose will soon begin his search for a new head coach — with Tom Thibodeau a frontrunner out of the gate, sources tell ESPN.”
Thibodeau, 62, has a history with the Knicks. He was an assistant there from 1996-2004, overlapping with the start of the Dolan regime in what certainly were happier times at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks were a perennial playoff team in the 1990s and made it to the NBA finals twice that decade.
In the last 19 seasons, though, New York has made the playoffs just four times — including a streak of seven consecutive missed trips, the most recent of which became official Thursday when the NBA voted on a 22-team return-to-play plan that ended the season for eight teams (the Knicks, Wolves and six others).
In that regard, Thibodeau makes a certain amount of sense as a candidate with the Knicks. The most positive thing you can say about Thibodeau’s tenure with the Wolves is that it restored, albeit briefly, a sense of on-court competency. An organization that hadn’t made it to the postseason since 2004 made it in 2018 under Thibodeau, winning 47 games in the process.
Maybe Knicks fans, who endured six straight 50-loss seasons and were headed for a seventh before this year was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, would welcome even a brief respite from the misery?
That said, Thibodeau’s method for achieving that moderate level of success in Minnesota proved unsustainable. He piled high-priced veteran contracts onto a roster built on youth. Once Jimmy Butler forced himself out after just 69 regular-season games with Minnesota, everything fell apart. Now the Wolves are rebuilding around youth again.
The Knicks had the fifth-youngest roster in the NBA at the start of last season. Is Thibodeau the right coach to lead a rebuild? Especially in a market where losses add up quickly, passion runs deep and patience runs thin?
We might find out. If Thibodeau gets the job — which, by the way, the Knicks probably aren’t in any hurry to fill since they have a long offseason — there figure to be plenty of headlines either way.