Tom ‘Thibs’ Thibodeau, ex-head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls, is on the short-list for several NBA teams seeking a new head coach, including the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Houston Rockets.
Thibodeau coached 598 games in the NBA with a 352-246 record. In seven full seasons, his teams appeared in the playoffs six times. He guided the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.
Both the Knicks and Nets fired their head coaches this season. Meanwhile, Mike D’Antoni continues to coach the Rockets, but his future seems bleak.
Thibodeau gained a reputation as a valuable assistant coach who specialized in defense. He worked with Jeff Van Gundy to conjure up defensive schemes for the New York Knicks in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thibs also spent time with the Houston Rockets as an assistant coach in the mid-2000s.
In 2008, he won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics as a member of Doc Rivers’ coaching staff.
In 2010, Thibodeau, fondly called Thibs by his players, earned his first head coaching job in the NBA after paying his dues for more than 15 years as an assistant coach.
Thibs won the NBA Coach of the Year in 2011 after he helped turn around the Chicago Bulls. They won the Central Division the first two seasons Thibs coached them. Under Thibs, the Bulls never finished lower than second place in their division.
Thibodeau Long Shot and the Houston Rockets
At first glance, Thibodeau and the Houston Rockets don’t mesh. Will Thibs be able to get both James Harden and Russell Westbrook to play insane and relentless defense? Maybe if they tighten up a bit on the defensive end of the court, then the Rockets wouldn’t need 50 points from Harden every night to win.
Mike D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy took flight in Houston. When they realized that their big man and best defender, Clint Capela, hurt the Rockets in offensive efficiency (especially with Westbrook on the floor), they traded him. As a result, the smaller Rockets opted for a small-ball approach while they continued to hoist treys at a ridiculous rate. The Rockets averaged 44.2 three-pointers per game this season. They shoot 10 more treys than more than two-thirds of the NBA.
The brain trust running the Rockets think that Thibs failed in Minnesota due to the Timberwolves arcane offensive sets, and their inability to stretch the floor and jack up a barrage of treys. The Rockets have long-range shooting down pat, they just need someone to convince them to play better defense. But good luck getting two of the biggest ball hogs in basketball to slap the floor and play stick-em defense.
Thibodeau Returns to the NY Knicks?
Thibodeau first made a name for himself in New York City as an assistant coach with the Knicks. As the Frank Sinatra song goes, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Jeff Van Gundy and Thibs devised some smothering defensive sets during the Knicks’ last great era.
Perhaps James Dolan wants to tap into the halcyon days of the Knicks before he purchased the team and ran it into the ground with his toxicity. Thibs is one of the few remaining links to those great Knicks teams.
“He really wants the Knicks job. He can taste it, and he may even be in the lead,” said Marc Berman from the NY Post.
But, can Thibodeau fix the Knicks? And, would he really want the job? The Knicks head coaching job is jinxed ever since Van Gundy bailed after 9/11. No matter what happens with the Knicks, the owner never takes the heat and the head coach becomes the instant scapegoat.
As a die-hard fan, I’d love a coach like Thibs and his fierce defensive pedigree to helm the Knicks. But, could he persuade these young kids to play hard-nosed defense? And how will the rumors of Chris Paul joining the Knicks alter or fortify their fondness for Thibs?
Mark Jackson, who grew up in NYC and played for the Knicks, has also been mentioned on the short-list as the next head coach.
Thibs in Brooklyn?
The Brooklyn Nets seem like the best fit for Thibodeau. And it’s not because he likes avocado toast and Mumford and Sons.
The Nets fired their head coach, Kenny Atkinson, just before the pandemic shut down the season indefinitely. They were 28-34 and fighting for the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, despite having a losing record.
The Nets shut down Kyrie Irving for the season so he could have shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, they eagerly await the return of Kevin Durant. KD missed the entire season while rehabbing a blown Achilles. There were inklings that KD could return this summer if the NBA’s season gets postponed until July or August. But team officials scoffed at the notion because it would be foolish to rush KD back in an unknown, post-pandemic season.
“Kevin’s a basketball junkie, he loves Thibs,” one NBA source told the NY Post. “Great players want to be coached, except the lazy ones. If they think the coach has a higher basketball IQ than them, they’re all in.”
Jacque Vaughn is currently the Nets’ interim head coach. They are also interested in Ty Lue, who won an NBA title as LeBron James’ installed head coach with the Cleveland Cavs. Mark Jackson has also been linked to the Brooklyn opening.