When the Knicks hit the All-Star break amid a 3-13 freefall, three-game losing streak and 25-34 record, at least two front office members recommended that Tom Thibodeau is released, learned The Post.
Members of the front office believed Thibodeau had, as one source put it, “lost the team.” They didn’t like some of the body language and attention during timeout caucuses.
According to the source, Knicks president Leon Rose was determined not to let Thibodeau go in his second season and the Knicks coach survived the February break.
After a relatively smooth 12-11 record after the break, Thibodeau, the 2021 Coach of the Year, will keep going, though he’s not sure he has the brass’s full backing.
Rose’s top advisers are executive vice president William Wesley, chief executive Scott Perry, chief strategy officer Brock Aller, deputy chief executives Frank Zanin and Walter Perrin, and chief people officer Makhtar N’diaye. Wesley was the only executive who traveled with the team to nearly every game on the road.
But Rose, once Thibodeau’s CAA agent, became the only voice that mattered and he emphasized his belief in Thibodeau during an interview with MSG Network on Sunday. A source said Thibodeau earned kudos with the brass for agreeing to play rookie center Jericho Sims against the veterans after the break.
Rose called Thibodeau “one of the best coaches in the NBA” who “prepares our team better than anyone. I think he did a good job under the circumstances.
The Thibodeau Knicks finished 37-45 and will be back in the NBA draft lottery. Thibodeau said he will work directly with exit interviews and further review the disappointing season before moving on to review the draft in two weeks.
He is immune, but not from criticism. Social media savants tore him up for not playing young power forward Obi Toppin earlier in the season; dropping Kemba Walker too soon and keeping veteran Alec Burks as the out-of-position point guard.
A common theme was Thibodeau’s stubbornness to go deeper with younger players before the season got out of control.
According to an NBA source, the front office – and some players – weren’t thrilled with the way the coach handled the enigmatic Julius Randle this season by no longer holding him accountable for his mistakes.
One of Thibodeau’s lowest moments came before the All-Star break when RJ Barrett sprained his ankle after being left in the game in the dying seconds after being blown out in Denver, costing him four matches.
Thibodeau has a terrific regular-season record as a coach (430-322 in 10 seasons) and guided the Knicks to a 41-31 clip and the No. 4 seed last season. But he’s used to criticism for his bold coaching style, dating back to Chicago and Minnesota.
“It’s not my first year, okay,” Thibodeau said with a laugh when asked about the opponents.
“Here’s my thing: whether it’s praise or criticism, it’s the same thing. To me, only you know if you’re putting everything you’ve got into something. And once you do that, frankly, I don’t care. I will put everything I have into each day and I will live with the results. I don’t think there is anyone who studies this team more than me. That doesn’t mean I’m always right, but I know how hard I’m going to study.
The Knicks’ offense let them down – not so much the defense, as some have argued. Statistically, the Knicks were a strong defensive rebounding team, among the leaders in allowing runs in the paint and their defensive field goal percentage ranked fifth.
If Thibodeau has been accused of failing to develop youngsters, it’s not for lack of trying at their Tarrytown HQ.
Thibodeau organizes a pre-practice practice with the young group to give them extra study work. While Toppin and fellow 2020 No. 1 draft pick Immanuel Quickley surged in the latter part of the season, Thibodeau, in fairness, might deserve some credit.
Quickley said Sunday night that it’s not unusual for the Knicks coach to still be in his office at 11 p.m.
“We just review our plays, it’s mainly for all of us to be great with our plays and know what we’re doing when we come into the game,” Toppin said. “So when all the youngsters are on the pitch together it’s easy because we do it every day before training.”