When the Knicks hit the All-Star break amid a free-fall of 3-13, a losing streak of three games and a record of 25-34, at least two members of the front office recommended that Tom Thibodeau be released, The Post has learned.
Front office members believed that Thibodeau had, as one source put it, “lost the team.” They did not like any of the body language and attention during timeout huddles.
According to the source, Knicks president Leon Rose was completely set on letting Thibodeau go in his second season, and the Knicks coach survived the February break.
After a relatively even record of 12-11 after the break, Thibodeau, Coach of the Year 2021, will march on, although it is uncertain whether he has the full backing of brass.
Rose’s top advisors are CEO VP William Wesley, GM Scott Perry, Strategy Manager Brock Aller, Assistant GMs Frank Zanin and Walter Perrin and Human Resources Director Makhtar N’diaye. Wesley was the lone leader who traveled with the team to almost every road match.
But Rose, once Thibodeau’s CAA agent, became the only voice that mattered, and he emphasized his belief in Thibodeau during an MSG Network interview on Sunday. A source said Thibodeau received kudos with brass for being willing to play rookie center Jericho Sims in front of the veterans after the break.
Rose called Thibodeau “one of the best coaches in the NBA” who “prepares our team better than anyone else. I feel he’s done a good job under the circumstances.”
The Thibodeau Knicks finished 37-45 and will be back in the NBA Draft Lottery. Thibodeau said he went straight to working on exit interviews and drilling down to review the disappointing season before moving on to a draft study in two weeks.
He is safe, but not for criticism. Social media has ripped him off for not playing young power forward Obi Toppin more earlier in the season; gave up prematurely on Kemba Walker and retained veteran Alec Burks as out-of-position point guard.
A recurring theme was Thibodeau’s stubbornness in going more with younger players before the season ran out of control.
According to an NBA source, the front office – and some players – were not thrilled with how the coach handled the enigmatic Julius Randle this season by not holding him more accountable for his mistakes.
One of Thibodeau’s lowest moments came before the All-Star break when RJ Barrett sprained his ankle after being back in the game in the final seconds of being blown out of Denver, costing him four games.
Thibodeau has a fantastic record in the regular season as a coach (430-322 in 10 seasons) and guided the Knicks to a 41-31 cut and number 4 last season. But he is used to criticism for his hard-hitting coaching style, dating to Chicago and Minnesota.
“This is not my first year, OK,” Thibodeau said laughing when asked about the no-cases.
“Here’s my thing: Whether it’s praise or criticism, it does not matter. To me, only you know if you put everything you have into something. And once you do, I’m honestly do not care.I will put everything I have into every day and I will live with the results.I do not think there is anyone who studies this team harder than I do.It does not mean that I am always right “but I know how hard I’m going to study.”
The Knicks attack failed them – not so much the defense as some have claimed. Statistically, the Knicks were a solid defensive rebound team, among the leaders in allowing points in the paint, and their defensive field-goal percentage was number five.
If Thibodeau has been accused of not developing the youth, it is not because of a lack of experimentation at their Tarrytown headquarters.
Thibodeau stages a practice-before-practice with the young group to give them extra study work. As Toppin and other 2020 draft picks in the first round, Immanuel Quickley, rose through the final section of the season, Thibodeau could, in fairness, deserve some honor.
Quickley said Sunday night that it’s not unusual for the Knicks coach to still be in his office at 6 p.m. 23.00.
“We’re just reviewing our game, it’s primarily for all of us to be good with our game and know what we’re doing when we get into the game,” Toppin said. “So when all the young guys are on the field together, it’s easy because we do it every day before training.”