Tom Thibodeau is here to stay in New York, whether the Knicks fans like it or not.
RJ Barrett, viewed as a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward, had expressed his confidence for their beleaguered coach after Bleacher Report confirmed Thibodeau would be back as Knicks head coach next season.
“I wouldn’t see why not. [Thibodeau’s] a great coach. We all love him. We all play hard for him. We believe in him,” Barrett said after scoring 31 points to lead the Knicks to a 128-98 rout of the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
It was Barrett’s seventh 30-plus point game since January. He credited Thibodeau for his development.
“I’ve gotten a lot better while playing for him and just the [coaching] staff as a whole, so I wouldn’t see why not,” Barrett added.
Thibodeau was reported to be on the hot seat before the All-Star break as the Knicks struggled to follow through on their feel-good playoff run last season. But since then, the Knicks have responded with a better effort to win four of their next 10 games, including a three-game win streak during their longest road trip of the season. They could have won more if only they had a big-time closer like Ja Morant and Kevin Durant did against them.
“The team is really playing good basketball but also the spirit of the team — the way they’re practicing — I can see the improvement every day, and that’s what we’re focused on,” Thibodeau said. “And look, we’re going to keep scratching, so who knows where this ends up?”
Thibodeau’s critics have pointed out his penchant for overplaying his veterans at the expense of their young players. But Thibodeau clapped back with Barrett’s development and incorporating seven players aged 24 into his rotation at various points this season.
“People forget that [Barrett] is only 21 years old. A big part of his learning is playing. The same thing with Mitch (Robinson), same thing with Quin (Quentin Grimes, same thing with Obi [Toppin], same thing with Quick (Immanuel Quickley). Deuce (McBride) is playing. Jericho (Sims) is playing,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t know if anyone has played as many young guys as we are.”
Before the season started with a playoff expectation, the average age of the Knicks roster (26.1) was just about the league average of 26.2. The five youngest teams in the league have beaten the Knicks this season, and three of them — Minnesota Timberwolves (24.9), Charlotte Hornets (24.8), and Memphis Grizzlies (24.0) — are either in play-in or playoff contention. The Knicks may have a better record than Orlando Magic (24.7) Oklahoma City Thunder (23.5), but those two teams have won their season head-to-head.
Despite a reported disagreement with executive vice president William Wesley and chief strategist Brock Aller in roster construction, specifically the Cam Reddish trade, Thibodeau still enjoys the trust of his former agent and current Knicks team president Leon Rose. Thibodeau’s close relationship with Rose and his rousing first season has earned him at least one more season to prove that this year, and not his first year is a fluke.
“I don’t worry about any of that stuff,” Thibodeau told reporters Tuesday. [I] just coach the team. Get ready for the next day. I know what I put into the job.”
Thibodeau will enter the third of a reported five-year deal next season.
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