With 22 games to play, injuries piling up, and the standings and schedule conspiring to make a playoff appearance unlikely, the reality began to set in for the Knicks that this season will not be a success.
But the real problem is how the team will react to failures. For a franchise marked by dysfunction and instability for more than two decades, are the Knicks resorting to more of the same?
Tom Thibodeau has returned to New York, not far from his childhood home and where he spent the early years of his coaching career as an assistant during the franchise’s last string of consistent successes. . He took over as head coach and last season, in his first year at the helm, he won his second NBA Coach of the Year award after the Knicks (41-31) won the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But the Knicks are 25-35 and now sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, and as they stumbled this season and the revamped roster failed, the problems returned.
Stories have been sifted through the NBA and have been reported by SNY that Executive Vice President William Wesley – who joined the organization to serve as right-hand man to team president Leon Rose, a role that he held for years when Rose was one of the league’s most prominent agents. — was on the ear of Madison Square Garden president James Dolan, blaming Thibodeau for the team’s failures.
It’s no surprise that this surfaced at the trade deadline, as the season ticked by, the Knicks haven’t budged. However, the assumption that the pointing finger only happened since the inactivity at the trade deadline is incorrect, according to a league source. Whispers were already ringing that Thibodeau was being blamed behind closed doors for his handling of newcomers Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and his reluctance to use Cam Reddish after arriving in a trade about a month before the February 10 deadline.
It’s hard to confirm rumors when the main figures aren’t speaking, but it’s also telling that the silent front office hasn’t stepped forward to deny them.
Wesley hasn’t conducted an interview since arriving in New York – one less than Rose since Thibodeau’s introduction.
Thibodeau hasn’t changed from the man who won Coach of the Year honors last season, but the roster has changed and the coaching options have changed.
Thibodeau responded to the stories last week, dismissing them saying, “I talk to Wes all the time. I don’t respond to rumors or anything. I know the drill here. I’ve been here before, so I’m not worried about any of that.”
But there have been leaks, and a person familiar with the talks said Wesley’s words in Dolan’s ear aren’t just that Thibodeau spoiled this list.
Wesley, the source said, also sold his plan to eventually bring a star to the Knicks. It was the wait when the Knicks handed the reins of the franchise to the inexperienced Rose, who had spent his career as a top and highly respected agent, and Wesley, whose background was much more curious. – hard to describe other than a gamer whisperer. who would guide them through the AAU programs and into the colleges of their choice.
According to the same person who pointed out Wesley’s criticism of Thibodeau, Wesley sold his plan, the one that will eventually land New York-native Donovan Mitchell of Utah. But it’s not schmoozing a high school player and directing them to a college of choice, and it’s not that simple even if the relationships are in place. Rose was a former Mitchell agent and the front office also inserted Johnnie Bryant as an associate head coach after Bryant served as an assistant at Utah.
The Jazz guard signed a four-year, $163 million extension (which could have been $33 million more lucrative had he played in a bigger market and secured an All-NBA spot he probably deserved) . Mitchell is expected to make $30.4 million next season and won’t be a free agent until the summer of 2025 at best, if he declines his player option for the following season. So, for him, trading means combining contracts and talents, and it’s not so easy to find some kind of package that would satisfy the Jazz.
You can try to build a package, but it’s hard to imagine one that works without stripping the Knicks of all the promising assets they currently hold. If Wesley and Rose can make this work, maybe they can speak openly and take credit. Until then, Thibodeau remains the only voice to speak publicly and do the same things he has always done.
Speaking of, well, speaking, it’s easy to hear praise for RJ Barrett’s rise among the Knicks, but it might mean more to hear him from outside the organization. And when he scored 46 points Friday night against Miami, he caught the eye of a few Heat All-Stars.
“We all know he can do it,” Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think anyone is surprised or should be surprised. He’s definitely going to be in this league for a long time and he’s going to be the face of the Knicks.”
Bam Adebayo added: “His confidence. You can see it in the body language, you can see it in his face. He wants to be that guy. You can see he wants to take his team to another level. You can see that. see in his body language. He plays free. He doesn’t even think about what shots to take, when to take them. He just goes out there and plays basketball.
As the Knicks’ playoff chances dwindled and injuries mounted, Thibodeau made rookie Jericho Sims the first (and only) center off the bench Friday in Game 1 after the All-Star break and also gave a few minutes to Miles McBride at point guard. .
Unfortunately, the third rookie on the roster, Quentin Grimes, who has been a regular rotation player, suffered a subluxation of his right kneecap in the game, and a diagnosis of the severity of the injury remains unclear. The Knicks said Saturday that Grimes would be reevaluated in two weeks.
Thibodeau was asked if this was a recommendation from management.
“No, I mean I’m talking to Leon, Scott [Perry], Wes, every day,” he said. “We talk about all of our players. We look at the development of these guys. It’s important to us. So we’ll see how that plays out.
“Obviously you can’t play 12 guys in a game. Guys have the opportunity, go out there and play well. They have to play well when they’re in there. You can’t go there and the team is playing badly. That’s one of the things – Quentin has earned his way and that’s how it should be.”