The New York Knicks are expected to hire longtime agent Leon Rose as president of basketball operations in yet another attempt to rebrand the franchise to look nothing like it has under owner James Dolan for the vast majority of the past two decades. Among Rose’s first orders of business will be the hiring of a coach, and early reports have the Knicks reaching into the wayback machine.
At season’s end, Rose is expected to consider former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and his ex-assistant Tom Thibodeau for the position currently held in the interim by Mike Miller, according to NBA insiders who spoke to the New York Post’s Marc Berman on the condition of anonymity. Van Gundy has a longstanding relationship with Rose, and Thibodeau is represented by Rose’s agency.
This after Rose’s fellow high-powered agent David Falk said in a WFAN radio interview on Monday, “I’ll take bets on how long it’s going to take before they hire John Calipari to be the next coach,” despite the University of Kentucky coach’s insistence he will not join his friend Rose on the Knicks.
Van Gundy and Thibodeau both have cache as big names in the coaching industry who have had success in their careers. Each would qualify as the flashy hire Rose is reportedly looking to make.
Van Gundy led the Knicks to their last NBA Finals appearance in 1999. More recently, he helped a team of G Leaguers win the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup and qualify the U.S. for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Thibodeau was an assistant under Van Gundy with both the Knicks and Houston Rockets before winning a ring as an associate head coach under Doc Rivers on the Boston Celtics in 2008. As a head coach, he helped an injury-riddled Chicago Bulls team earn back-to-back No. 1 playoff seeds.
There would also be reasons for skepticism about each candidate.
Worse is Thibodeau raging against both as an actual coach. In his last two full seasons at the helm, the Minnesota Timberwolves ranked dead last in three-point attempts. His players routinely led the league in minutes, often to the detriment of health and longevity. Thibodeau’s once-brilliant strong-side defensive system gave way to switch-heavy schemes that better counter modern offenses.
And the ugly side of Knicks nostalgia
Months before the firing of Knicks team president Steve Mills at the start of February, both Van Gundy and Thibodeau were on the team’s short list of coaching candidates to replace Miller, along with former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. That Van Gundy and Thibodeau remain on the list is perhaps a sign this is not exactly a full rebrand.
Then again, given rumors of a frosty relationship between Van Gundy and the Knicks ever since his 2001 resignation, one may argue that considering him signals a fresh approach. That might be the case had Dolan known Van Gundy was lobbying for the job when David Fizdale was hired in 2018.
“I never heard that. He wanted the job? Look, I’ll do whatever’s necessary to help the team,” Dolan told ESPN’s Ian O’Connor in December 2018. “If Scott [Perry] and Steve said Jeff’s the right guy, fine, but it was really their call. I didn't meet anybody else other than Fiz. They said, ‘Look, he’s our pick, I want you to meet him.’ So I did. I wasn’t involved in the selection process at all.”
The next front office may have the same autonomy as the last, and yet their reported coaching candidates are similar. The hope would be that all parties involved have learned from their mistakes.
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