Tom Thibodeau

New York Notes: Knicks’ Second Unit, Knicks Defense, Nets Offense

There may be more pressure on the Knicks’ front office than coach Tom Thibodeau, Steve Popper of Newsday speculates.

The Knicks had to attach draft picks to trade three veterans during the offseason and now have three more — Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish — glued to the bench. They could use some help on the second unit, with Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen rumored as potential trade targets. Meanwhile, Thibodeau is leaning on younger players to produce.

“We know that a big part of learning is trial and error, so our young guys are getting better day by day, and that’s what I’m excited about,” the head coach said. “I know there’s a tremendous amount of growth they’ve already had, and I think there’s more to come.”

We have more on the New York City teams:

  • With the jumbled standings and most teams at least in contention for the play-in tournament, there are more buyers than sellers in the trade market. That could make it more difficult for the Knicks to do anything, Fred Katz of The Athletic notes. The Knicks are hoping that more teams will go into sell mode prior to the trade deadline — Katz breaks down which clubs might fall into that category.
  • The Knicks were disappointed with their defensive coverages in their loss to the Kevin Durant-less Nets, Peter Botte of the New York Post writes. The Nets knocked down 22 3-pointers. “Closing out, sense of urgency, none of that. We have to be better,” Julius Randle said. “We didn’t play well enough to win. We definitely didn’t deserve to win the game. We didn’t pick up our sense of urgency until the game went on, the fourth quarter. We have to be better from the start.”
  • On the flip side, the Nets might need to continue firing away from deep to make up for Durant’s absence, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. They attempted 40 3-pointers against the Knicks and head coach Jacque Vaughn wasn’t sure it was enough. “I wouldn’t mind having 10 more,” Vaughn said. “I say that in the huddle, let’s get 50 up. We have a good enough squad who can shoot the basketball and they have to be respected. [Kyrie Irving’s] ability, that’s why it’s so great to have the basketball in his hands. … If we can shoot 50 [3-pointers], we’ll shoot 50 and be OK with that as long as they’re good ones.”

Atlantic Notes: Thibodeau, Knicks, Grousbeck, Boucher

During an interview Friday with WFAN, Knicks owner James Dolan said reaching the playoffs will “definitely be a benchmark” for this season, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Dolan didn’t specify what will happen if the team falls short, but Bondy suggests the repercussions will likely be directed at head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is in his third season with the team.

New York is in seventh place in the East at 27-24 following Saturday’s loss to Brooklyn, so the prospects for at least the play-in tournament appear good. Thibodeau acknowledged Dolan’s statement, but said it won’t change his approach to running the team.

“I never worry about that stuff. Hey look, for me, I look at (Dolan) as — is he giving us everything we need to be successful? Yes,” Thibodeau said. “So, go out there and give him everything we have. Hopefully, we have the team that does that, so we want him to have belief in the team. I think that’s good.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks are focused mainly on adding bench depth before the trade deadline, Ian Begley of SNY.TV states in a mailbag column. Begley adds that the front office appears committed to building a contender around the current core group and doesn’t view a full-scale rebuilding project as a viable option.
  • The Celtics will approach the trade deadline with a philosophy of trying to win the title this season, owner Wyc Grousbeck said in an interview with NBC Sports Boston (video link). When asked about his message to president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, Grousbeck responded, “It’s about this year. It’s not about ‘this will pay dividends in three years or this will do this next year. It’s this year; muscle up and let’s go get the job done.’ … If there’s anything to do, we’ll do it. If not, we love this team. We’re top of the league right now.”
  • Friday’s trip to Golden State brought back memories for Raptors big man Chris Boucher, who started his NBA career by appearing in one game for the Warriors in 2018, per Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Boucher faced an uncertain NBA future at the time, but he ultimately landed a rotation role with the Raptors. “I’m a lot older, I say that. I think I take things a lot differently than I used to,” Boucher said. “(I’m) less emotional, sensitive and (can) take criticism and not thinking that it’s all about me and everybody’s pointing fingers at me and all that. More able to see my mistakes and being able to fix them by myself, trying to be a better player every time I step on the floor.”

New York Notes: Randle, Knicks Defense, Thibodeau, Simmons

Julius Randle had a monster game against the depleted Pistons frontcourt on Sunday, posting numbers that a Knicks player hadn’t reached since the Patrick Ewing era, Peter Botte of the New York Post notes.

Randle racked up a season-high 42 points and 15 rebounds in the 117-104 victory, the first 40-15 game by a New York player since Ewing accomplished the feat in 1996.

“Man, he’s a legend. Respect to him,” Randle said. “Just lets you know the kind of work that he put in when he wore his jersey. I’m honored and blessed to be able to do something that he did.”

Randle is averaging 28.6 points and 13.0 rebounds in 20 games since Dec. 7.

We have more on the New York teams:

  • Randle said that coach Tom Thibodeau implored his team to perk up defensively after a five-game losing streak last month, Botte writes. “I think really since the Houston game [on Dec. 31], maybe, Coach, he got on us to really lock in defensively,” Randle said. “And I took it personally, because I felt like I wasn’t necessarily playing my best defense for those couple of games, whatever it was.” Entering Sunday’s contest, the Knicks had the third-best defensive rating since Dec. 31.
  • Thibodeau has often been criticized in past seasons for rely too much on veteran players and playing them too many minutes. That’s the not the case this season, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News notes in a subscriber-only story. Bondy points out that there are no Knicks among the top 20 in minutes per game this season and the average age of the rotation players is under 24.
  • Ben Simmons sat out the Nets’ game against Oklahoma City on Sunday due to back soreness, Ian Begley of SNY TV tweets. Simmons, who has appeared in 31 of the team’s 42 games this season, played 26 scoreless minutes against Boston on Thursday but contributed 13 assists and nine rebounds.

Knicks Notes: Toppin, Barrett, Robinson, Hartenstein, Sims, Brunson, Thibodeau

Knicks forward Obi Toppin could make his long-awaited return to action on Monday night. He went through a full practice on Sunday and should be available to play against the Bucks, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News tweets.

Toppin, who has not played since Dec. 7 due to a right leg injury, was medically cleared to return earlier this week, but needed more practice reps before the Knicks were comfortable reinserting him into the rotation.

RJ Barrett is listed as doubtful due to a lacerated right index finger, the team tweets.

We have more on the Knicks:

  • Mitchell Robinson grabbed 18 rebounds in 35 minutes, including eight on the offensive end, against Toronto on Friday. Robinson has noticed teams are trying to block him out with multiple players on the offensive glass and takes pride in that fact, Bondy writes. “I’m a dangerous man,” Robinson said. “You got to put three guys on me to keep me off the glass. That says a lot. I’m really becoming something.”
  • With Toppin ready to reclaim his spot as the backup power forward, Isaiah Hartenstein or Jericho Sims will be dropped from the rotation, Bondy adds in the same story. “Whatever we decide to do, that’s part of sacrificing for the team and putting the team first,”  coach Tom Thibodeau said.
  • The Knicks have won four straight and Jalen Brunson has emerged as the team’s closer, according to Bondy. Brunson had 10 points in the final six minutes against Toronto. “What I try and do is try and relax and stay poised in those moments,” Brunson said. “Everyone talks about pressure and all that stuff, but just got to trust your mechanics, trust everything you do.”
  • Thibodeau has notched 100 coaching victories since being hired by the Knicks, Steve Popper of Newsday notes. “I’m glad to be a part of all 100. Thibs has come in here and created a great culture for all of us,” Julius Randle said. “He’s been amazing. The support, holding us accountable, the belief for us to win every night. I’m happy for him. We’ve got to get him another hundred.”

Derrick Rose Staying Positive Despite Diminished Role

Derrick Rose isn’t upset about losing his rotation spot with the Knicks and is content to serve whatever role coach Tom Thibodeau asks of him, he told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Rose has only played a total of 17 minutes this month, as Thibodeau has chosen to play younger guards. Rose feels the situation could change down the road and he’s fine with mentoring his teammates as New York pushes for a postseason berth.

“For one, I’m very appreciative to understand my role. I’m not here for entitlement, I’m not here feeling like I need minutes or anything like that,” Rose said. “I’m just here to win and try to help the young guys out. I never thought I’d be in this position. I never thought I’d be playing this many years. I’m waiting for my chance, for sure, but I can’t complain. Being in this position. I’m taking advantage of it. I’m looking at it where I’m saving my body, and you never know in the playoffs when I could be used.”

Rose addressed a number of other topics during his interview with Charania:

  • He feels appreciated by coaches and teammates and maintains a positive outlook: “I’m not in the locker room trying to (screw) up the vibe of the team by having a messed up attitude like that.”
  • He’s giving all the guidance he can to starter Jalen Brunson: “He listens, so that’s half the battle when you’re dealing with someone like that. He’s a hell of a player, a winner too. He won in college, won in high school, and he’s trying to win on the next level now. So it’s up to me to guide him, and not be forceful, but try to give him as much info, knowledge and wisdom as I can.”
  • He maintains a strong relationship with Thibodeau and remains prepared to contribute if he regains a rotation spot: “Thibs (and I) always talk about it — he always says this is the bottom of the mountain, we got a whole mountain to climb. I just got to make sure that I’m always prepared. That’s the biggest challenge. Being in the new position, being in a new situation every year, this year is the first time I went through this. So learning, adjusting, trying to keep my body ready if you do need me, all that is going to take time. But it should be good.”
  • He isn’t sure about coaching after his playing career, but he’d like to own a piece of a franchise: “I’m into ownership. I feel like I saved up enough. It’s not like I need a loan, I’m good. So I’m waiting. I’m waiting for my time.”

Atlantic Notes: Brunson, Mitchell, Melton, VanVleet

After an unsuccessful outing against his former team Saturday afternoon, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson sought to take some heat off coach Tom Thibodeau, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Brunson had a season-low 13 points and was minus-26 overall in his first game against Dallas since leaving in free agency.

The 21-point loss drew boos from the Madison Square Garden crowd as the Knicks suffered their seventh defeat in their last eight home games. Thibodeau has become a target for the fans, but Brunson insists the downturn isn’t his fault.

“Coach Thibs has done a great job,” Brunson said. “He’s been able to put us in positions where we need to succeed. I think he knows where to put those puzzle pieces. It’s just on us to actually execute and do things. So it’s just — I know he’s going to get a lot of the blame, guys are going to get some of the blame. It’s on us. We’re the players out there not battling. It’s his job to put us in positions, which he’s done.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks will get a reminder of their most significant decision of the summer when Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers come to town Sunday night, Bondy adds. Team president Leon Rose’s refusal to part with a large amount of draft capital after extensive trade talks with Utah is looking like a “backfire,” according to Bondy.
  • De’Anthony Melton is making an impact on defense for the Sixers after being acquired in a draft night trade, notes Spencer Davies of Basketball News. Melton is second in the league with 2.0 steals per game and ranks first overall with a 3.6% steal percentage. “I think De’Anthony’s a very easy guy to play with,” coach Doc Rivers said. “… He defends. And I think guys who defend always have a little more longitude to do whatever. Guys respect that. You want to get respect in a locker room? Go stop somebody and you’ll get it, and I think De’Anthony has that.”
  • Raptors guard Fred VanVleet isn’t overreacting to two bad road games, per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. VanVleet said the losses at New Orleans and Brooklyn can be part of a growing experience. “I think we’ve got to learn how to be a team,” he said. “We have to learn to play together a little bit more, be professional, be a little bit more ready to go. You can find excuses in this league every night — there are a million of them — or you can show up and play the game the way it is supposed to be played.”

Atlantic Notes: M. Robinson, Knicks, Trent, Hauser

Responding early on Wednesday morning to a fan who asked him about the possibility of working with Amar’e Stoudemire on his post moves, Knicks center Mitchell Robinson replied, “The way we play is not set up for me to do any moves.”

As Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News writes, Robinson’s tweet could have been read as a simple statement of fact about the Knicks’ system, or it could have been interpreted as a “subliminal complaint” about his role, since the big man has occasionally griped about his lack of involvement on offense in the past.

Robinson answered that question during and after Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee. He scored 15 points and racked up 20 boards, including 11 on the offensive glass, then told reporters in his postgame media session that he has no complaints about his role, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post.

“If I was unhappy, I wouldn’t have (done) what I came out here and did today and last game,” Robinson said. “I would’ve just chilled out and just (said), ‘Oh well.'”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • There is “heightened scrutiny” on the Knicks‘ game-by-game performance internally at MSG, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. There has been some speculation that head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s seat could get hotter if the team doesn’t show signs of taking a step forward, but Begley says “the entire organization is under the microscope” in the wake of an up-and-down 10-12 start.
  • With a potentially huge payday looming during the 2023 offseason, it’s a big year for Raptors wing Gary Trent Jr., who put in extra work in an effort to break out of a recent slump, as Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca details. Challenged by head coach Nick Nurse to be more disruptive on defense, Trent has 11 steals in his last four games and poured in a season-high 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting off the bench on Wednesday in New Orleans.
  • Celtics sharpshooter Sam Hauser is enjoying a breakout season in Boston, notes Chris Mannix of SI.com. While Hauser’s traditional stats – including 7.5 PPG on .514/.479/.778 shooting – are solid, it’s his advanced stats that really jump off the page. The former undrafted free agent leads the Eastern Conference in offensive rating (124.1) and net rating (+19.1) through his first 22 games. Boston re-signed Hauser to a three-year, minimum-salary contract over the summer, locking him into a team-friendly deal through 2024/25.

And-Ones: Trade Market, Spain, Coaches, Overtime Elite

Even though we’re only a month into the 2022/23 NBA season, some front offices are “beginning to get itchy trading fingers,” writes Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com, citing league sources. While the in-season trade market often doesn’t heat up until December 15, when most offseason signees become trade-eligible, some clubs may already be looking to make changes, according to executives who spoke to Bulpett.

“Everyone comes into the year having talked themselves into their roster,” one general manager said. “But then we start playing the games and soon enough reality sets in. Some teams shouldn’t read too much into it, because it takes time for guys to get on the same page if you’ve made some changes. But even though it’s crazy, some guys look at the standings and think, ‘Oh, s–t, I better do something.’ … And some of them are going to be under pressure to do something. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens after December 15.”

Bulpett’s story features some speculation from executives about what struggling or inconsistent teams like the Lakers and Nets might do on the trade market, as well as a suggestion from one exec that clubs’ financial situations will be worth monitoring as the trade deadline nears.

“There could be some interesting players out there as we get deeper into the season, because I think teams are going to be looking to dump salary once it’s clear they’re not in the playoff mix — or maybe in the mix but with no chance to do anything if they get there,” the executive said. “Teams are going to start looking at that luxury tax bill and their record, and the two just aren’t going to mesh.

“Where it could get interesting is if some guys get the idea they need to make a splash to keep their jobs. But I think you’re going to see some owners step in and look at the bottom line. What’s funny is that they may end up saving their GMs from themselves — you know, keep them from doing something stupid.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Spain has leapfrogged the United States as the No. 1 national team in FIBA’s men’s basketball rankings, according to a press release. The U.S. had held the top spot in FIBA’s rankings since 2010 and has won the last four Olympic gold medals, but finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup (which Spain won) and third in this year’s AmeriCup.
  • Zach Harper of The Athletic divides the NBA’s 30 coaches into “hot seat” tiers, starting with the ones who definitely aren’t going anywhere – such as Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra – and working his way down to the coaches who might want to keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date — Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks and Doc Rivers of the Sixers are in that final tier.
  • A panel of NBA.com writers weighs in on the biggest surprises of the NBA season to date. Besides obvious choices like the Warriors‘ struggles and the Jazz‘s unexpected early success, the panel singled out the Pacers for their solid start and noted that offensive production has been off the charts in the early going.
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic checks in on where Overtime Elite stands heading into its second year, highlighting some of the tweaks the league has made. Among those tweaks? Offering recruits a choice of a scholarship or a salary, allowing them to leave the door open to eventually playing college ball by retaining their amateur status, if they so choose. “The scholarship option (for high-school aged recruits) has been big for us, if not bigger than NIL,” OTE general manager Damien Wilkins said. “Because now we can go out and recruit without restrictions. There’s no real downside.”

Temperature Rising On Tom Thibodeau’s Seat?

The temperature is rising on Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s seat after Sunday’s blowout loss to the Thunder, in which New York gave up 145 points at home, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. The Knicks’ effort has been lacking multiple times in the young season, leading to questions about Thibodeau’s ability to get through to his team, Begley writes.

I thought (Sunday) was just a readiness (issue). We just weren’t ready,” Evan Fournier said. “Noon game, whatever. I don’t know. But lack of intensity, just not doing what we’re supposed to.”

After Thibodeau led the Knicks to the East’s No. 4 seed in 2020/21 with a 41-31 record and won Coach of the Year, the team faltered in his second season, finishing with a 37-45 record.

According to Begley, owner James Dolan gave president Leon Rose permission to decide Thibodeau’s fate just before the All-Star break last season after the Knicks blew a 28-point lead to a Nets team playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Obviously, Rose decided to retain Thibodeau, but it put his future performance under more scrutiny.

At 6-7 thus far in 2022/23, New York’s record isn’t egregious relative to external expectations, but the Knicks had higher hopes entering ’22/23 than a possible play-in berth, in part due to moving some draft assets to free up cap space to sign Jalen Brunson to a lucrative contract in free agency (Thibodeau was a proponent of trading for Donovan Mitchell as well, Begley adds). People with knowledge of the situation told Begley in the offseason that the team’s early-season performance would be “critical,” with Thibodeau “under a microscope early on.”

As Begley writes, not all of the Knicks’ struggles are on Thibodeau. They don’t have the most talented roster, and there aren’t many defensive-minded players for a coach with well-known reputation for prioritizing defense.

The thing that sits with me is the disappointment of losing,” Thibodeau said after Sunday’s loss, per Steve Popper of Newsday (subscriber link). “We have to look at every game and say, ‘OK, what do we have to fix, what do we have to prioritize?’ . . . But I know if we’re relying on trying to outscore people that’s not going to work. Our margin of error is small, we have to play with great intensity on every possession.”

Still, changes are likely to come in some form if the team struggles on its upcoming five-game road trip, whether it be via a trade, in the front office or with Thibodeau being replaced, Begley notes. The Knicks have a brutal schedule over that stretch: road games at Utah, Denver, Golden State, Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

Something feels off with the Knicks, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic. The starters are struggling again, the bench isn’t performing as well as last season, the pieces are ill-fitting and the effort comes and goes. Katz argues the Knicks should make a consolidation trade because they have too many rotation players but not enough standout performers.

Knicks Notes: Roster, Robinson, Hartenstein, Toppin, Grimes

The Knicks‘ reluctance to gamble on a big move this summer has left them with an imperfect roster and no star power to lean on, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. New York is off to a 4-5 start, but the wins came against three rebuilding teams and the shorthanded Sixers, while the losses were to probable playoff teams built around All-Stars.

The offseason was defined by an unwillingness to meet Utah’s price for Donovan Mitchell, who was subsequently traded to Cleveland. Coach Tom Thibodeau was a strong advocate for making the Mitchell trade, according to Popper, who hears from an NBA source that the Knicks had bad intel and believed the Cavs weren’t willing to give the Jazz everything they wanted. Knicks executive Brock Aller argued against giving up three unprotected first-round picks for Mitchell, Popper adds.

The Knicks were also in position to outbid Atlanta for Dejounte Murray, Popper contends. He cites recent mistakes such as signing Evan Fournier in 2021 when Thibodeau preferred to keep Reggie Bullock and taking Obi Toppin ahead of Tyrese Haliburton in the 2020 draft.

There’s more on the Knicks:

  • Thibodeau described the right knee sprain that center Mitchell Robinson suffered on Friday night as “mild,” per Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Robinson will be reevaluated in seven-to-10 days to determine when he can resume playing. The injury increases the value of offseason addition Isaiah Hartenstein, who is expected to be the starting center while Robinson is out. “He’s done everything that we were hopeful of, and we obviously studied him quite a bit,” Thibodeau said of Hartenstein. “The rim protection obviously has been very, very good. Pick-and-roll defense, very good. And then offensively, just to pull people away from the basket, play-make, very good passer. Good in the paint. And so I think as he gets more comfortable, you’ll see more and more from him.”
  • The Knicks are downplaying an argument during the fourth quarter of Friday’s game between Toppin and assistant coach Rick Brunson, Bondy states in the same story. They reportedly resolved their differences, and they have a solid relationship as Brunson trained Toppin while he was preparing for the draft. “Just normal NBA stuff,” Thibodeau said. “Heat of the battle.”
  • Quentin Grimes was held out of tonight’s game because of soreness in his left foot, the same issue that caused him to miss the season’s first six games, Bondy adds.