The Wait Continues
Its is now day 6742 of New York's coaching search...or maybe it just feels that way.
Some lingering thoughts on the coaching search as we close out what was, if nothing else, an interesting week of news and rumors…
There seem to be two very distinct camps of opinions about where New York’s interview process for a head coach stands.
In one corner, we have one of the sloppier games of Knicks Front Office Telephone I can remember, which is really saying something considering how much some within this franchise like to chirp. Everyone - and I mean everyone - seems to know someone who knows someone who swears that Thibs has been pegged as the guy for a while now, and the delay in announcing the hire isn’t indicative of any indecisiveness with the Knicks’ decision (or Thibs’ decision, for that matter).
Is it that Leon Rose wants to hammer out the full coaching staff before announcing the news? Or wait for a certain NBA news-breaker to return from suspension so he can Tweet the hire? Or is there a dispute over years and/or dollars on Thibs’ contract, and the delay is about one waiting for the other to call the bluff?
That, of course, leads us to the other corner, which is the recent word from the Knicks’ beat that no contract discussions have started, no choice has been made, and more conversations and/or interviews are in the offing.An update on Knicks coaching search: New York is likely to continue to talk to candidates next week and still hasn't entered into negotiations with any candidate yet, league sources told SNY. More info here:Can confirm Ian’s report - more talks coming next week. And then, maybe, finally, a coach. As reported Tuesday - still no contract negotiations with anyone, including Thibodeau.An update on Knicks coaching search: New York is likely to continue to talk to candidates next week and still hasn't entered into negotiations with any candidate yet, league sources told SNY. More info here: https://t.co/d72WgYYO9FIan Begley @IanBegleyAs reported earlier, the Knicks' talks with candidates are indeed likely to continue into next week. Should then have a coach named before the end of the week.
Why the Knicks had an interest in getting this messaging out there over the last few days is a bit confusing to me.
Who loses if there’s an assumption that it’s going to be Thibs’ job and then they wind up going in a different direction? If either Thibs or the Knicks got cold feet (say, due to his age, either because they no longer want to hire an older coach during this pandemic, or because he doesn’t want to wait too long for a competitive roster) and they went with Kenny Atkinson, most of the fan base would be thrilled and the hire would be universally praised (although if it came out that the decision was made with money in mind, I could see leak this irking the powers that be).
Unless, of course, all the rumors are false, and Thibs has never been the shoe in that he’s been made out to be by me and many others. But that begs a question with an even foggier answer: who benefited by getting that “shoe in” storyline out into the universe?
The instinct is to say “Thibs” because it makes him look like a desirable candidate for another job, but really, how would it look if New York - a team he’s better connected with than anyone - said “thanks but no thanks” and sent him on his merry way after months upon months of a matrimony that seemed all but guaranteed?
Then there’s the ultimate wild card/bogeyman, Coach Cal, who’s name was brought up yesterday by Steve Popper, who noted that if ever there was a time for him leave Kentucky, it might be now. While the mere mention of Cal’s name may infuriate a large segment of the fan base, if you think Rose wouldn’t jump at the sliver of a chance to get Cal in New York, you’re kidding yourself.
All this is to say I don’t know what the hell to think at this point, but as is often the case with the Knicks, something here seems a little off. Or maybe I just think about this shit too damn much and have been stuck in my house for too damn long.
Either way, whether it’s five minutes or five days from now, if Tom Thibodeau or Kenny Atkinson is the next coach of the Knicks, I’ll be a happy camper.
Speaking of Kenny, he’s gotten the short end of my stick over the last week in terms of researching what the Knicks might be getting if they hired him. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that yesterday, Jarrett Allen - the man who Atkinson insisted on started, a decision that may have led to his ouster as much as anything - spoke up for his old coach.
It’s a nice thought, if expected and rote.
But it did make me wonder. Specifically, I was reminded of some things that recent KFS Pod guest Bootum and Kaelin Phoebe quoted in their recent P&T series arguing for Atkinson to get the job. There was this, from Spencer Dinwiddie…
…he’s open, he’s willing to be collaborative as a coach, as a leader, and it really helps all of us out.
…and this one from Jeremy Lin:
Everyone knew I was going to get cut. I knew I was going to get cut. And [Atkinson] was still pouring everything into me like I was his star player.
…and also this from Jeff Teague:
Before he got to Atlanta, when I was there, it was, get the ball to Joe [Johnson]. Post-up. Get the ball to Al [Horford] and Josh [Smith]. And when he got there he just showed me a whole new light on basketball, really. He let me be myself. He opened up to me and he showed me a whole new way of looking at basketball.”
Flowery language for a coach who helped his players earn massive sums of money is nothing new. But there is no mistaking that Atkinson is another sort than Thibs. Whereas Thibs gruff exterior has helped him almost become a caricature of himself at this point, Kenny just seems…different. Less of a taskmaster, more of a put-his-arm-around-your-shoulder type.
Which one do the Knicks need? That was the question raised to me yesterday by Hoops Yoda Clarence Gaines:Very debatable to think of Thibs as a transformational coach in Chicago. What is he? A driver/pusher of men - possibly what the need in the short term to get them to a level of competence, but doubt his ways can endure/sustain over the long haul. Guess what? That's OK!
For those wondering what the hell Clarence is taking about…
If this seems like overly heady stuff for a game predicated on bouncing a ball and throwing it into a round cylinder, maybe you’re right.
But it also doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the best coaches of the modern era - Phil, Riley, Pop, probably Doc, and maybe Spo - all clearly fall into the transformational category.
As has been well-documented, Thibs downfall in Minnesota was that he approached the situation as a transaction - get this shitty franchise to be good, and quick - and made front office moves in the spirit of that endeavor, the sum total of which backfired on him.
In Chicago, there was never a conflict between the approach to winning that Thibs thought best and the style of play that made his individual players look like the peak versions of themselves in the process. It certainly helped that he had a group of guys who wanted to win as desperately as he did.
In Minnesota, that wasn’t the case, and a conflict developed: Thibs self-interest in winning at all costs clashed with some prominent young players who clearly needed a more wholistic approach to how they wanted their young careers to be shepherded. They wanted, as Dinwiddie put it, a collaborator in their basketball journey.
I’ve advocated for Thibs over Kenny largely because I think New York’s core players (or the closest thing they have to core players) will take well to Thibodeau’s brand of direction. I also think it will take a larger than life force to come in and blow two decades’ worth of rot from within the walls of that locker room, and Thibs is as large as they come.
If New York’s existing players take to it (a question I sincerely hope the front office has asked itself repeatedly) and they bring in more players who fit the bill, Thibs could finally be the thing that turns this operation around.
But as Clarence suggests, there is real risk in the move, and even if it does work in the short term, the shelf life may not be long.
Good problem to have, I suppose.
Lastly, some questions of a different variety:great newsletter. To ICE or not to ICE is a big question for a potential Thibs team, along with whether they DO just play normal drop more, closeout philosophy, and high PnR philosophy.Yep, the big question that went unasked in Macri's newsletter is even if you can have a team that ICEs well, is that even a better option than other defenses using those same defenders?
While I detailed Thibs’ defensive coverages extensively over the previous two newsletters, I focused on whether those coverages could work in the current league and with the right players as opposed to whether any team should institute them as part of their defensive philosophy.
To be clear about what we’re discussing, this is a very nuanced point. The overall Thibs philosophy - guard the rim at all costs - has never changed. As Prez points out, there are a number of ways to prioritize protecting the paint, with drop coverage (“dropping” the big under the pick and roll so he’s closer to the hoop, as the name suggests) being the most popular one.
The difference between ICE and normal drop coverage is is how aggressively you try to contain the ball handler and push him towards the sideline, as opposed to giving him the option to use the screen and go middle.
This is ICE coverage, where Derrick Rose positions himself to push Trey Burke towards the sideline, and then Nikola Mirotic is there to wall off any foray into the paint. There’s also the option to use ICE to aggressively trap the side pick and roll (not what Mirotic does here).
To me, the question of whether or not to ICE is far less interesting than whether or not to play two traditional bigs (because with teams getting smaller and smaller, asking very large humans to cover more ground seems like a bad idea), and also how aggressive the defense should get in it’s pick and roll coverage (i.e., should it trap, and how often?)
Ultimately, whether or not to ICE should probably come down to personnel, and the fact that New York happens to employ one of the best shot blockers in the league should be a large vote against its usage. There are a number of tactical reasons for this, but in short 1) you want to keep your last line of defense as close to the basket as possible, and 2) by having that fail safe, it allows you to be a bit more creative with how you attack screens with your perimeter defenders up by the arc.
But even then, Mitch isn’t your standard rim protector, having shown the ability to hang with guards on the perimeter with a good deal of success. Using him to the best of his abilities is going to take not only a brilliant basketball mind, but one willing to think outside the box and not be held to any preconceived notions about what does and doesn’t work best in a league where the only constant is change.
Will Thibs be able to do that? My guess is still that we’ll find out soon enough.
That’s it for today…have a great weekend everyone! #BlackLivesMatter