NBA Props: Will the Knicks Hire Tom Thibodeau As Head Coach?

thibodeau

  • Knicks expected to hire full-time head coach within weeks
  • Thibodeau (-200) is emerging as a legitimate candidate
  • Atkinson (+700), Jackson (+350), Miller (+600) offer value

It may feel like something that happened five years ago, but it’s only been a few months since the New York Knicks pulled the plug on head coach David Fizdale. Fizdale had been hired prior to the 2018-19 season after an up-and-down tenure with the Memphis Grizzlies, but his time in New York was largely underwhelming.

The Knicks went 17-65 in Fizdale’s first season on the job, and the team canned him last December after the team got off to a dismal 4-18 start. New York whiffed on luring any big-time free agents to town last summer, and they instead spent their cap space on a slew of power forwards and shooters. Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, and Wayne Ellington were the team’s “big” additions heading into the new season.

The Knicks have still not been eliminated from playoff contention this season, but Fizdale’s replacement was always going to face an uphill climb. The team installed Mike Miller, a longtime assistant, as Fizdale’s interim replacement. Miller has bounced around through a number of college programs before being named head coach of the team’s G League franchise, the Westchester Knicks, in 2015. He was promoted to Fizdale’s staff as an assistant prior to this season.

Miller’s Impressive Job

Miller has coached the Knicks to a 17-27 record through his first 44 games, which is actually somewhat impressive considering how terribly the team performed under Fizdale’s guidance.

The Knicks have used the current hiatus to overhaul their front office. Back in March, the team hired former agent Leon Rose to be the president of basketball operations. Earlier this week, Rose hired three new staff members,  including Walt Perrin, one of the more renowned collegiate scouts in the league.

With Rose’s staff taking shape, the executive is expected to begin a search for the team’s next full-time head coach. At this point, we don’t even know whether Miller will remain on the job if the Knicks return to action at the league’s proposed “bubble” in Orlando.

On Wednesday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Rose has his eye on former Bulls and Timberwolves boss Tom Thibodeau.

Charania says that the Knicks are “targeting a decision” on the team’s next coach within the next few weeks. Miller has seemingly made a good impression during his time in charge, and he will be among the candidates expected to interview for the full-time gig. Charania added that the timing of the entire process could hinge on when or if the Knicks will resume the 2019-20 season.

Thibs Favored

BetOnline released new odds on who will become the next Knicks’ head coach shortly after Charania’s report surfaced. In news that should surprise nobody, Thibodeau is a minus-money favorite to land the job:

Candidate Odds at BetOnline
Tom Thibodeau -200
Mark Jackson +350
Mike Miller +600
Kenny Atkinson +700
Jeff Van Gundy +1200
Mike Woodson +1200
Patrick Ewing +2500
Becky Hammon +3000
Pat Riley +7500
Phil Jackson +15000

Thibodeau has a career record of 352-246 as a head coach across his stops in Chicago and Minnesota. The Bulls qualified for the postseason in all five seasons under Thibodeau’s watch, while he helped snap the Timberwolves’ 14-year playoff drought in 2018.

Thibodeau previously served as an assistant with the Knicks on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff from 1996 until 2004. Speaking of Van Gundy, the former head coach is listed at +1200 to get the nod. Van Gundy hasn’t coached in the NBA since getting fired by the Houston Rockets in 2007, but he has spent the last four years as a coach for USA basketball. Van Gundy was an assistant with the Knicks for seven years before earning the head coaching job in 1996, where he served until 2001.

JVG, Atkinson Could Receive Consideration

Van Gundy has reportedly shown interest in coaching in the league again, but whether the Knicks would consider bringing him back is unknown. Other former Knicks coaches with odds are Mike Woodson (+1200) and Pat Riley (+7500). There’s no chance Riley will leave his cushy job in Miami to head back to the sidelines in New York. It’s pretty unlikely that Woodson would be brought back just six years after his firing.

Kenny Atkinson makes for an interesting option at +700. Charania reported that Atkinson is “likely” to be among those to be interviewed for the job. Atkinson was fired by the Brooklyn Nets back in March after the team got off to a 28-34 start. The Nets were still in playoff position despite the fact that Kevin Durant hadn’t played a game, and Kyrie Irving was limited to just 20 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.

Atkinson reportedly had a difficult time relating to the Nets’ new stars, which led to the team’s surprising decision to part ways with him. The Nets won 20 games in 2016-17, the year before Atkinson’s arrival. Brooklyn advanced to the playoffs last season, and their exponential improvement during his tenure helped the team emerge as an attractive destination for Durant, Irving, and DeAndre Jordan.

Atkinson also has ties to the Knicks after serving as an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York for four seasons.

Former Knicks?

Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing are a couple of former Knicks players that have since gone into coaching. Jackson helped the Golden State Warriors reach the playoffs during his only NBA coaching stint to this point, though his reputation has taken a bit of a hit since Steve Kerr took over and instantly turned that same team into a championship-caliber outfit.

Jackson has been alongside Van Gundy in the ESPN broadcast booth ever since, but his name pops up as a potential option every time a coaching vacancy opens. Jackson has a record of 121-109 across his three seasons as a head coach to this point, but he hasn’t coached since being fired in 2014.

Ewing, one of the greatest Knicks of all-time, is currently the head coach at his alma mater, Georgetown. Ewing has been an assistant coach with the Wizards, Rockets, Magic, and Hornets since his retirement as a player, but he has never landed an NBA head coaching job. Ewing has led the Hoyas to a record of 49-46 in his first three seasons in charge, but the team has not yet earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Considering Jackson has NBA experience and has actually had more success as a coach, he seems like a more logical choice for the Knicks to consider than Ewing. Ewing offers more value at +2500, but Jackson is the more likely option at +350.

Who Will Coach the Knicks?

It’s understandable that the Knicks would have their sights set on Thibodeau considering he has a winning percentage of nearly 59 percent over the course of his career. There probably isn’t a more decorated, established head coach available right now. On the flip side, there isn’t much value in taking a flier on Thibs to get the job at the current -200 odds.

Shooting for upside makes sense here. Given his track record and previous relationship with the team, Atkinson looks pretty appealing at +700. He has proven during his time in Brooklyn that he’s capable of helping a struggling team turn things around. Even though his time with the Nets didn’t end well, it’s just a matter of time until another team gives Atkinson a shot.

Jackson at +350 is worth a look, as well. Miller at +600 is intriguing, but given the odds I’d rather just go for Atkinson at the slightly more favorable number.

The Bet: Kenny Atkinson (+700)

Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.