Tom Thibodeau on Knicks offseason moves: ‘We wanted to be disciplined’

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have always been under the microscope.

So the Knicks went into the offseason with so much anticipation from their fan base and around the league.

Armed with a massive $40-million cap space, the Knicks have struck out anew in a free agency devoid of franchise-altering stars. But it’s not that they didn’t try to go after second-tier stars Gordon Hayward and Fred Van Vleet or inquired about the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.

They did.

But they resisted the temptation of recklessly throwing big money on stars on the decline.

For a change, the Knicks showed restraint.

“I like it,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said on a zoom call with reporters Tuesday on how their front office operated with prudence during the offseason.

“Obviously I had input with Leon. And that’s all did I ever asked for – just to have a voice heard and that happened. We understood coming in what the challenges would be. We’re excited about the people we do have. We understand that it’s important for us to build a winning culture. And if we can do that, good things will happen,” he added.

The Knicks ended up doling out short-term contracts to veteran role players Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Austin Rivers, and re-signing Elfrid Payton to a more team-friendly deal.

Patience is now Thibs’ virtue

Thibodeau, a win-now coach, shows extraordinary patience as the Knicks’ new regime under his friend, team president Leon Rose, kept their massive space for next summer’s loaded free agency.

Thibodeau will use next season to lay the foundation of the rebuild.

He referenced his brief stop in Minnesota, where in the first season, he missed the playoffs despite having former lottery picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. And he also mentioned how the Philadelphia 76ers went through losing seasons despite having rising stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

“Obviously, a couple of different roads you can go down. If you study it and look at how teams are built, I went through this in Minnesota – the draft is critical, free agency is critical, player development is critical and trade opportunities are critical. When you look back at Philadelphia, what they went through, obviously, they went through a lot of losing and were able to get Embiid and Simmons, and when they had their veterans, that’s when they took off,” Thibodeau said.

Both the Timberwolves and the 76ers enjoyed success when veterans came to show the way for their young stars.

‘We wanted to be disciplined’

A common denominator for the Timberwolves and the Sixers is Jimmy Butler.

When Thibodeau traded for Butler in Minnesota, the Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. When Butler forced his way out of Minnesota that cost Thibodeau his job, the Sixers felt Butler’s impact. They came to a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater away from going into the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I think you look at four avenues and try to build your plan that way. I thought we had a well-thought-out plan. We took advantage of some things that we thought would be good for us. But we wanted to be disciplined. And we were,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks did take advantage of teams like the Utah Jazz and the Timberwolves who wanted to shed salaries and got plenty of future second-round picks and young players Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans in return.

The Knicks made underrated, smart moves and operated as a small market team, which can be attributed to the forward-thinking of chief strategist Brock Aller, who came from the Cleveland Cavaliers and assistant general manager Walter Perrin, who came from the Jazz.

And to top it all, the Knicks had a good draft with a couple of sneaky moves that landed them College Player of the Year and Brooklyn native Obi Toppin from Dayton and SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley from Kentucky to add their collection of young talents.

‘We can’t skip steps’

With a young core devoid of a veteran of Butler’s caliber, Thibodeau plans to build a winning culture that will make New York an attractive destination for stars.

“There will be other opportunities as we go forward but we concentrate on players that we have here. Concentrate on our improvement and hopefully, good things will happen,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau’s move to get Butler in Minnesota has been viewed as skipping steps but for him, having that right guy to lead them over the hump is the next step after laying down the foundation.

“The first step is practicing the right way. Having professionalism and togetherness that will allow us to reach whatever our potential is. And we want to build a winning culture and that happens day by day. So oftentimes you’re not gonna jump from one point to the top of the league in a short amount of time. So, you have to go step by step. We can’t skip over any of those steps and hopefully, we have the right guys to build that culture,” he continued.

Chess, not checkers

The odds are stacked against the Knicks this season, but Thibodeau and Rose are playing chess, not checkers.

Vegas oddsmakers have the Knicks tied with the Cavaliers for the fewest projected victories at 22 ½ while ESPN is more generous with a 24.7-win projection.

“The focus for us and for our team has to be on doing the right things every day. If we do that, then we’ll improve and get better. And that’s all we have to think about. It doesn’t matter what outside people think,” Thibodeau said.

Another season of losing isn’t what the Knicks fans are expecting from the new regime. But Thibodeau knows New York basketball by heart.

“I think the one thing about New York fans [is that] they’re knowledgeable about the game. I think if they see a team that’s out there working as hard as they can, playing smart and playing together, that will be recognized. And if we’re taking all the little things, the big things will end up taking care of themselves. And if we work on improving each and every day, good things are coming,” Thibodeau said.

Knicks fans have suffered long enough, and they can’t wait for the good things to come.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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