NBA Rumor: Knicks Coaching Search

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The Post reported earlier this week Thibodeau, while close to Leon Rose, is not as tight with new senior vice president William Wesley as in years past. Wesley may have as much, if not more influence than Rose. “Over recent years they really haven’t had much connection,” one NBA source said. Meanwhile, it’s known that Thibodeau, the former Bulls and Timberwolves coach, is intrigued by the Rockets job if it opens after Houston is eliminated, and he could have been given an assurance there. Thibodeau is still getting paid by Minnesota next season.

An update on where things stand with the Knicks coaching search: per league sources familiar with the matter, New York is not in contract negotiations with any candidate and has not made a contract offer to any of the candidates it has interviewed. The Knicks are continuing to do their due diligence and there is a strong likelihood that they will have conversations with multiple candidates next week, per SNY league sources. It remains likely that the club will hire a coach by the end of the month, prior to the NBA resuming its regular season in Orlando. “They’re still exploring their options,” a league source familiar with the Knicks’ process told SNY.

With a report surfacing on the Knicks Film School podcast Tuesday morning that former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson interviewed Monday, it raised issues of just where the Knicks’ coaching search stands. According to a source with knowledge of the talks, Atkinson’s interview was his second with the front office, which is believed to have completed the two rounds for all candidates. It doesn’t change the fact that Thibodeau is seen as the preferred candidate, but Atkinson’s willingness to interview again at this late date did cause some head-scratching around the league about whether it might mean that the job is not the sure thing for Thibodeau that it is believed to be.

But Rose also has taken a slow path through this process, doing his due diligence with the candidates — even if league sources have believed many of the 11 to be simply favors for old acquaintances at CAA, getting names of agency clients out there, with some not believed to be real candidates for the head-coaching job. Even some with previous experience, such as Mike Woodson, are believed to be more in line for an assistant coaching position. Mike Miller, who has served as the team’s interim head coach, is expected to be a part of the staff no matter who gets the head job.

The Knicks still plan to wrap up their coaching search by the end of the month. As they get closer to the finish line, several people briefed on the Knicks’ thinking expect them to hire at least one of the current head-coaching candidates as an assistant on the next head coach’s staff. Some old-school coaches bristle at the idea of a team hiring assistant coaches for their staff. But the practice has become more common recently as franchises collaborate with coaches on the coaching staffs.

It was Tom Thibodeau’s first season as head coach of the Timberwolves, and his squad had stopped in Louisville for a couple days before a preseason game. Rick Pitino, who was coaching the Louisville Cardinals at the time, took his staff to observe Thibodeau’s session. They expected a relaxed atmosphere considering the NBA’s reputation, but were floored by the intensity and efficiency. “He was meticulously organized, almost scary organized, and he reminded me of Bill Belichick,” Pitino told the Daily News. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Belichick and Thibodeau’s got a lot of the same mannerisms, the same attention to detail that Belichick has. And that’s about the highest compliment I could give someone.”

Scalabrine, who played under Thibodeau in Boston and Chicago, also compared him to the Patriots coach. “Very similar to Bill Belichick if you ever to go to a Bill Belichick practice,” he said. “Every smallest detail of his practice is talked about. Every pass has to be seamed. Every shot has to be quick and balanced. Every pick-and-roll you have to come off shoulder-to-hip.” At one Bulls practice, Scalabrine lost focus and learned that his history with Thibodeau wouldn’t spare him from wrath. “Thibs laid into me something fierce,” said Scalabrine.

Before going 54-28 and reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2012-13, Woodson took over midstream for Mike D’Antoni, who couldn’t find a way to connect with Carmelo Anthony. Woodson reached Anthony more than any head coach ever has and the Knicks romped to an 18-6 finish in 2011-12. Knicks president Leon Rose saw it firsthand as his agent — a clue to why he got this interview and perhaps will join the coaching staff. Woodson’s departure was only because new president Phil Jackson had to bring in his own staff. “He got the most out of Carmelo and Amar’e [Stoudemire] by holding them accountable,’’ said one individual who has worked alongside Woodson.

Why hasn’t the name Byron Scott been brought to the table? He is in my estimation a viable candidate. — Michael Whittaker When he led the Nets to two Finals, there were rumblings assistant Eddie Jordan was the Xs and Os mastermind. When Scott was fired, conflicting reports existed on Jason Kidd greasing the skids. Scott last coached the Lakers during their down period from 2014 to 2016. His 38–126 (.232) record is the worst of any of the 16 Lakers coaches with two seasons. One source says Scott wasn’t the hardest worker nor a fan of film study.

The Knicks are continuing to work through the process of the search for a head coach and have completed second interviews with all candidates. Knicks president Leon Rose described his process on MSG Network last month of conducting informal talks and then formal interviews with the 11 confirmed candidates. The Knicks completed the second round last week, holding talks with the candidates who are not headed into the bubble for the restart of the NBA season.

Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson interviewed for the club’s head-coaching vacancy on Friday, sources said. Friday was Woodson’s second interview with the club. Woodson and all other candidates had initial interviews with the Knicks last month or in the first week of July. The Knicks’ second-round interviews are expected to conclude in the coming days. It is unclear if any candidates will be asked to interview a third time. New York plans to make a decision its next head coach before July 31, when the NBA resumes its regular season in Orlando. Woodson amassed a 109-79 record as a Knicks head coach. Remarkably, he’s also the only coach in the past 20 years to lead New York to a playoff series win (2013). He’s the only coach to post a winning record for New York in the past seven seasons.

Jamahl Mosley, a Knicks coaching candidate, is in his sixth season on Rick Carlisle’s Mavericks staff. The 41-year-old has emerged as one of the league’s top young assistants destined to take the next step. However, it was legendary coach George Karl — not Carlisle — who gave Mosley his first job in the NBA, hiring him to work out Nuggets players in 2006 for the paltry salary of $25,000. Mosley, a 6-foot-8 star power forward at the University of Colorado, was with Karl from 2006-10, going from player developmental coach to bench assistant coach in their last two seasons together. “I thought he had a great connection with today’s player,’’ the retired Karl told The Post from his home in Denver. “He was hungry. He was big in player development, then toward the end of his time, we gave him scouting reports, game-plan responsibilities. He was really good with basketball intellect and really good with players. That’s the combo you need in today’s world and changing attitudes of the young players.”

What does it mean to you to coach in New York? Mike Woodson: “It means everything to me. Think about it: I was a young kid who had a big-time college career, and the organization thought enough of me to draft me with their No. 1 draft pick back in 1980. And then they think enough of you to bring you back as a coach. When I came back, I was an assistant coach and was asked to take over once Mike D’Antoni stepped down. It was like a dream come true for me. I had come full circle.”

What’s it like to coach a winning team in New York? Mike Woodson: “I’ve played and coached for a number of teams and there’s nothing like winning in New York. There’s just nothing like it, especially in terms of the fans. The beauty about the fans in New York and people that love Knick basketball: you can’t trick them. They sniff that out right away. I knew that when I took over. We went 18-6 to end the regular season (outscoring opponents by a combined 211 points), made the playoffs and set the tone for next year. And then we got a bunch of guys in our first offseason to buy into our system. And I thought it worked out pretty well (the Knicks won 54 games in Woodson’s first full season, 2012-13).”

The Knicks plan to interview the future Hall of Famer in Kidd during their head-coaching search, league sources confirm. SNY first reported last week that Kidd was receiving strong internal consideration to be interviewed by New York. Kidd played one season for the Knicks, filling a pivotal role on a team that won 54 games in 2012-13. The 47-year-old thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Knick, and one source familiar with Kidd’s tenure says he’d welcome the opportunity to return to the Big Apple.

New York is expected to have brief introductory interviews with some candidates this week, per SNY sources. Those introductory interviews, which will be conducted via video conference, will be followed by longer, more formal interviews, sources say. The Knicks’ search is expected to last several weeks and to conclude by the end of July, when the NBA is scheduled to resume regular-season play in Orlando. It is unclear who else the Knicks may interview for the opening. Spurs assistant Becky Hammon was described by a source as a name to keep an eye on for a potential interview, as Newsday first reported.

“One, he showed me professionalism, really how to be a student of the game; studying the playbook, studying players…it’s like knowing your enemy better than it knows itself and being prepared. He’s always prepared. He always has a plan A,B,C,D,E,F and G so, that’s one thing that they’re going to get out of Coach Thibbs. Also he expects every player to practice, every player bring their A game and he preaches with defense first; if you play defense you will get offense. So if you want play offense, you got to play defense. I loved that about him and he’s just a hardnosed coach.”

Mike Miller, the interim coach who acquitted himself well after taking over for Fizdale, will get a look. Kenny Atkinson will also be interviewed, according to The Athletic. Around the league, people have cautioned to never count out John Calipari, given the Kentucky coach’s strong connection to Rose’s associate, William Wesley. But the belief is that this is Thibodeau’s to lose, and a source said he’s confident about getting the job — to the point that Thibodeau has made calls to assemble a staff.

In raving about Thibodeau in general, Van Gundy touted him as more than a defensive master. The former Bulls and Timberwolves head coach was on Van Gundy’s staffs previously with the Knicks and Rockets. “Tom Thibodeau is a great, great basketball coach – like, great,’’ Van Gundy said on SiriusXM radio. “And I think unfortunately for him the perception of him on the sidelines as this gruff, nasty dude is not even close to who is he personally. Like, he is a great guy. He’s fun to be around. He’s enjoyable to be around, and he loves basketball. He loves NBA basketball and he works at it and he is elite in his profession.”

With the Rockets, Nets and 76ers occupied until late August with the season restart, the Knicks don’t even have competition. “I hope he gets another opportunity to be a head coach because if you look at his body of work he certainly deserves it and any team that may interview him or hire him would be very fortunate to have him as a head coach.,’’ Van Gundy said. “He gets thought of as a defensive coach but if you look at his best teams in Chicago and in Minnesota they were very high level statistically speaking offensive teams and I think it’s been overlooked when people try to evaluate Tom from the outside.”

Thibodeau, 62, last coached during the 2018-19 season in Minnesota but got fired after having trouble reaching the young players. Van Gundy believes his inability to relate to millennials is another myth. “Tremendous well-balanced, good player development – he’s gotten young players much, much better,’’ Van Gundy said. “So not speaking about the Knicks job, but speaking in general, Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the world and I hope to see him get another head job.”

With that in mind, we reached out to one current NBA coach and one former NBA coach to gauge their thoughts on some Knicks candidates. Below are their thoughts on how Tom Thibodeau would fit in New York… SCHEMES… “He’s an elite defensive coach. There’s no question. Those guys will be playing hard for him and, if they follow his scheme, they’ll defend the pick-and-roll well. They’ll take away drives and control the paint. His schemes are excellent, but as we saw in Minnesota, the schemes alone can’t offset lack of effort from players or subpar defenders. I think RJ Barrett has the frame and athleticism to be a talented defender. Mitchell Robinson has a ton of upside on that end as a shot-blocker. Tom should be able to get the best out of those two and whoever else they put on the court.”

The Knicks’ coaching search won’t officially start until they get binding word that they will not be among the teams invited to Central Florida. Such confirmation, of course, could come as soon as Thursday, when the league’s Board of Governors is scheduled to vote on Silver’s preferred proposal. The expectation in league coaching circles is that the Knicks will move with reasonable swiftness from there, since Tom Thibodeau is regarded as such an overwhelming favorite to replace the interim coach Mike Miller. Leon Rose, the Knicks’ new team president, has a close relationship with Thibodeau from their lengthy stints as agent and client with Creative Artists Agency. Word is that the Knicks, for good measure, have already begun background work on their top target.

Moving forward to the Leon Rose era can’t begin in earnest until he hired his coach. To that end, sources say Tom Thibodeau is the heavy favorite to land the job. Mike Miller, the interim coach who acquitted himself well after taking over for Fizdale, will get a look. Kenny Atkinson will also be interviewed, according to The Athletic. Around the league, people have cautioned to never count out John Calipari, given the Kentucky coach’s strong connection to Rose’s associate, William Wesley. But the belief is that this is Thibodeau’s to lose, and a source said he’s confident about getting the job — to the point that Thibodeau has made calls to assemble a staff.

Knicks interested in Kenny Atkinson

Former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likely will also receive an interview, sources said. Atkinson and the Nets parted ways in March with the team at 28-34 and on the way to the postseason during a difficult fourth season at the helm. Atkinson helped turn the franchise around during his tenure, taking it from a 20-win team in 2016-17 to a playoff team last season and one that proved to be an attractive destination for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. He was a Knicks assistant for four seasons under head coach Mike D’Antoni.

Knicks coaching search: Thibodeau the top candidate

The New York Knicks and president of basketball operations Leon Rose will soon embark on the search process for a new head coach and Tom Thibodeau is atop the list of targets, sources told The Athletic. The Knicks are believed to be targeting a decision in the next few weeks, sources said. Interim coach Mike Miller has left a strong impression throughout the franchise, including in his time since Rose assumed control of the front office. Miller is expected to receive an interview when the Knicks do start formally talking to prospective head coaches, according to league sources, after stabilizing the team following a 4-18 start that led to David Fizdale’s firing.

“The way everyone’s managing with load management and where your team is, sports scientists, so it’s different. And if your team is young and you’re in a rebuild, you’re probably practicing more than an older veteran team,” Thibodeau said. “In some cases where the team is mixed, there’s almost two practices going on in one, where your young guys are getting the work they need, and the older vets are in the weight room getting strength and conditioning.”

If you follow the NBA, you know that one of the criticisms of Tom Thibodeau is something like this: his intensity and his approach to practices/playing time wear players out. Whether that’s true or not depends on who you talk to and what their perspective is on the matter. Thibodeau, a strong candidate for the Knicks’ head coaching job if interim head coach Mike Miller isn’t retained, addressed those criticisms in an interview on ESPN’s First Take earlier this week.

Here’s what he said: “I think we all have questions to answer as coaches. The big thing is oftentimes there’s things that are being said where there’s no validity to them, they’re being painted by people that have never even been around you,” Thibodeau said when asked by Max Kellerman about the criticism that his players are fatigued in the playoffs. “And then I would say to all those people, the facts are what the facts are. To look into the facts, to do your research, to look into the numbers and to also talk to former players, the guys who have played for me. I think if you did that, you would find what the truth is. There are certain things that I do believe in. But as we all know, our league is always changing. It never stays the same and it never has, nor will it ever. So you have to keep adapting as time goes on.

During the First Take interview this week, Thibodeau essentially declined to comment on the reports stating other teams are interested in hiring him. “They’re just rumors an that’s what it is. And this time of year, everything is on hold,” he said. “Normally you would have some openings and right now there aren’t any openings. So you don’t want to speculate on what jobs could open. That’s what you have an agent for. He’ll certainly, at some point, look at if there is an opportunity, whether it be a good match or not. I’m still under contract with Minnesota so I feel like I’m in a position where I can be patient.”

During an appearance earlier this week on the “Knicks Fan TV” podcast, in which he said Dolan is “scared” of him, Oakley was asked if he thought Van Gundy would be a good selection as the next Knicks head coach. “With these guys, a Jeff-type coach?,’’ Oakley said. “If I know Jeff correctly — and I played for him and know how he coached — I think it would be tough to come back and coach young guys. What he believes in for his offense and defense in this day and age, it’s totally different.’’

Oakley doesn’t think Van Gundy would have the patience for the millennial NBAer. “You can make three, four turnovers and miss four free throws in the first few minutes and take bad shots,’’ Oakley said. “You look at these teams. Out of 80 shots, 30 shots are bad. “Basketball has changed. You’re not getting the 1990s back. The game has a totally different atmosphere. You got to build a team with leadership and players willing to sacrifice. These kids don’t care about basketball. All they care about is getting the check, playing video games and the social media.”
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September 27, 2021 | 10:23 am EDT Update