The good news is that at least one rival Eastern Conference general manager believes that the New York Knicks are a better team than last season. How much better, however, could wind up costing head coach Tom Thibodeau his job.
Speaking with Heavy.com, the anonymous executive believes that the Knicks are at least capable of reaching the last-chance stages of the NBA postseason, namely the conference Play-In Tournament afforded to the final four of the top ten. That, however, wouldn't be enough to ensure Thibodeau metropolitan longevity.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Thibodeau is on thin ice as is after following up a rare New York playoff berth with a disappointing 37-win campaign that was good for 11th in the East last season. But Thibodeau's unwillingness to make adjustments in the wake of losses has put an even larger target on his back, placing him on one of the hottest proverbial seats in the modern NBA.
“There was a lot of question as to whether he would make it through last year after the way they fell apart and how undisciplined that team seemed at times,” the executive said. ”He was very slow to change the rotation, things like that, and it rubbed people the wrong way. But Thibs is always consistent in his approach. It’ll be the same this year."
Thibodeau has been an NBA sideline staple since 1989 but his head coach efforts have often ended under rocky conditions. A successful, if not disappointing, five-year tenure in Chicago (2010-15) ended amidst constant arguments with the front office, while his three-year stint with Minnesota (2016-19) was cut short in the midst of his final season despite helping end the team's 14-year playoff drought the year before.
The Knicks improved in the eyes of many over the offseason, dishing away some of the veterans that Thibodeau expressed loyalty toward over younger players like Alec Burks, Kemba Walker, and Nerlens Noel in favor of a massive new deal to Dallas playoff hero Jalen Brunson. Though they missed out on Donovan Mitchell, the Knicks also landed depth contributor Isaiah Hartenstein while also re-upping with interior threat Mitchell Robinson.
But, even with all that, it's generally been agreed that their action isn't enough to thrust the Knicks back into the safety of the East's top six. Thus, fulfilling expectations, the GM says, would grant Thibodeau his walking papers.
“:ook at the East, and they’re 10th best. That is the best-case scenario if everyone is healthy around the East. They’re 10th," the executive says. "So he could do the best possible job he can, finish 10th and still get fired. I’d say he will get fired if they finish 10th. It’s a tough spot."
If Thibodeau were to complete his third season at the New York helm, he would end a bit of a dubious streak in the cursed of Knicks head coaches: no Madison Square Garden boss has lasted at least three full seasons at the helm since Mike D'Antoni (2008-12).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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