Baseball’s Opening Day is quick approaching, and the Knicks are going to be free fairly quickly to soak up as many Yankees and Mets video games as they care to observe. So allow us to put Tom Thibodeau’s two seasons in New York in a balls-and-strikes context.
Last yr, Thibs was a league MVP who hit .325 with 37 homers and 118 RBI.
This yr, Thibs has been a banged-up mess on the plate, batting a Charmin-soft .269 with 14 homers and an limitless parade of runners left on base.
Just nearly as good gamers have unhealthy seasons, good coaches have unhealthy seasons too. As his workforce is closely favored to fall wanting the play-in event — the bottom of low NBA bars — Thibodeau has to just accept his share of the blame. And his most damaging failure was his lack of ability to do what he constantly did final yr:
Get the very best out of Julius Randle.
Soon sufficient, the Knicks’ blame sport needs to be enjoyable to comply with whereas 10 higher Eastern Conference groups take their postseason probabilities. Nobody is aware of if Leon Rose, the agent-turned-executive, has any concept what he’s , or if he’d be higher off discovering work as a mime. Nobody is aware of if Randle has compromised his commerce worth with substandard play and get-me-outta-here physique language to the extent that his workforce could have a tough time shifting him this summer season for an inexpensive return.
Yes, Randle and Rose will take probably the most warmth, and rightfully so. Rose for making the strikes that did nothing to assist final yr’s No. 4 seed within the East, and Randle for signing the massive contract after profitable the Most Improved Player Award and second-team All-NBA honors, after which usually appearing like he wished to be wherever else on sport nights aside from Madison Square Garden.
But Thibodeau, the league’s Coach of the Year in 2020-21, needs to be proper behind them on that line in 2022. Though he won’t ever be forgotten for the reward he gave town in his first go-around in his dream job, and although he ought to by no means once more be requested to pay for a meal or a drink within the tristate space, Thibs didn’t ship a worthy sequel in Year 2, partially as a result of he couldn’t cease his greatest participant from dragging everybody and all the pieces down.
So earlier than Wednesday night time’s assembly with Charlotte within the Garden, I successfully requested Thibodeau why he felt final season’s clear love affair between Randle and town appeared headed to divorce court docket so rattling shortly.
“Every year is different,” he responded. “You’re faced with new and different challenges. This year didn’t go like last year did. Hopefully we can finish up like we did last year. Things change all the time and … I think it goes with the turf. You’re going to get a lot of credit, you’re going to get a lot of blame. That’s the way it works here, so just stay focused, come in the next day and just keep working. Just keep working.”
Thibodeau didn’t sound like he was speaking to reporters gathered within the Garden interview room; it seemed like he was speaking on to Randle, who was not current.
Does Thibodeau say these items to Randle behind closed doorways? Did he privately take him head-on after the star participant chastised the followers and confirmed an absence of curiosity within the workforce and an absence of enthusiasm for his teammates’ successes?
I requested the coach a follow-up query about buttons, the sort that coaches are employed to push. Thibodeau pushed the fitting ones with Randle final yr, and I questioned if he had struggled to seek out these this yr.
“It’s not just one player,” he responded. “It’s your entire team. How do you bring the best out of your group. Right now, I want the focus to be on, OK, the team’s playing really good, playing winning basketball, and that’s where I want it to be. … Once the season’s over, we’ll dig into everything. We’ll look at the things we did well, the things we didn’t do as well as we would like, and then we’ll try to make the improvements over the course of the summer.”
And, sure, even earlier than the four-game profitable streak, Thibodeau had completely earned the fitting over the summer season to repair what’s damaged. The man continues to be one of many higher coaches within the league, and nonetheless the Knicks’ greatest asset (with RJ Barrett closing onerous). Unlike Randle, Thibodeau additionally desires to stay employed in New York within the worst manner.
“This is the best place in the league to play,” he stated, “and look, I’ve been just about every place. I’m speaking from experience. This place is special.”
Only it wasn’t particular this season, not prefer it was final season. Thibodeau by no means linked with Randle, by no means impressed him to guide, or to play team-first ball, or to honor the phrases of his $117 million extension.
That wasn’t simply Randle’s fault. That was the coach’s fault, too.