Knicks: A new portrait of Tom Thibodeau

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

There is this long-held portrait of Tom Thibodeau as a draconian and gruff coach who runs his players to the ground.

It’s hard to fault anybody who pictured Thibodeau that way after his messy exits in Chicago and Minnesota.

A Karl Anthony-Towns’ no holds barred interview after Ryan Saunders replaced Thibodeau as the Timberwolves coach in 2019 only exacerbated it.

“We think we have the best coaching staff possibly in the game right now from talent, experience, and just culture standpoint,” Towns told WCCO’s Cory Hepola at that time.

Towns added that he was very happy to introduce their then rookies to a family culture, taking a shot at Thibodeau’s all-basketball-and-nothing-else approach to team building.

“You know, I don’t think the situation before it would’ve been very beneficial for them, and that’s a disrespect and a slap in the face to their development, you know, and I want to make sure that they develop not only as players but as human beings and as men. And, uh, you know, that’s what we’re here to do,” Towns added.

“And in Minnesota, the thing, one of the biggest things where Ryan and with me is like, we have to make sure our culture is not based on just basketball. This is a family atmosphere. Everything we do here in Minnesota has to be able to have a family. A family backing and a family thought process. And building people’s personalities, characters and showing them more of themselves. And you’re more than basketball.”

Fast forward to 2021, and Thibodeau has reinvented himself and was back in the playoffs, ending the New York Knicks‘ eight-year playoff drought during his first year. But unlike his flameout in Minnesota, no drama developed. Only a family atmosphere which Towns craved.

Thibodeau did a soul searching following his ugly ending in Minnesota. In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, months before he assumed the head coaching post in New York, Thibodeau sounded like he’s changed.

“You learn from your experiences. I think it’s important to ask yourself, what can I do better? You are kind of making a better situation for everybody,” Thibodeau told Wojnarowski.

“We all learn probably more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and I think that’s part of the equation. And so, I think the biggest thing, as I said, is the league is always changing, and so you want to make sure you’re adapting as well.”

There were trepidations that it was just a mirage. That Thibodeau can’t be the right coach for a young Knicks team. That an old dog can’t learn new tricks. But Thibodeau went into his latest coaching job with an open mind. He embraced analytics. He adapted to the modern style of play, searching for ways to increase three-point opportunities.

But more than the style of play, the change in his approach and management style without sacrificing the long-held beliefs that he dearly valued endeared him to this team. He commanded the total buy-in that he failed to get in Minnesota.  

Derrick Rose blossomed into the youngest MVP in the league a decade ago under Thibodeau’s demanding style. Then he developed into a solid sixth man during their reunion in Minnesota. He found a kindred spirit in Thibodeau.

Rose lived his early years in the fast lane, breathing and eating basketball until injuries changed his perspectives. Now he clocks in the gym and still leaves everything on the court. But once he clocks out, he enjoys his time with his family, especially his kids.

Thibodeau has no family. Basketball has become his wife. His life revolved around basketball. That’s why players who come at night for a shootaround find the lights in Thibodeau’s office still on.

Younger players, who were playing under Thibodeau for the first time, naturally gravitated towards Rose. But even Rose has noticed the not-so-subtle changes in his old coach.

“Yeah [younger players ask me about Thibs], but he throws me off sometimes too,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Like you never know. If anything, I think guys are saying a different side of him this year — seeing him actually crack jokes or like to open up like you know when he doesn’t like you if he’s not talking to you.”

Evan Fournier has extensive experience playing under a demanding coach like Thibodeau. After all, his former coach at Orlando Magic, Steve Clifford, is a good friend of Thibodeau and both coaches came under the coaching tree of Jeff Van Gundy.

“I think he’s exceptional in the work ethic that he installs in practice like the spirit,” Fournier said of Thibodeau. “We’re all tired. We’re all working really hard, but he somehow makes it fun. He knows when to f—k around, joke, smile, and bring a good and positive attitude.”

“And he knows when to be tough, makes sure we go harder, makes sure we understand what he wants from us, and he really demands us to give everything we have on each drill. And when he senses that, you know, not that we’re going through the motion, but we’re not necessarily going after it, that’s when he kind of stops and either asks us to do it again or talks to us and makes sure we go harder.”

Thibodeau has somehow found the balance that was long missing in his coaching.

There was a time when Thibodeau held practices past the traditional two-hour window. Van Gundy once told ESPN’s Ian O’ Connor, now a New York Post columnist, about the longest summer league practice ever. Thibodeau, an assistant coach at that time, was tasked to coach the Knicks Summer League team in the 2000s.

Van Gundy said the practice was scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon, with the second one from 4 to 6 p.m. But Thibs held the first practice until 3:15 p.m. before yelling at players to “Get off your feet. Get some rest. Get something to eat.” Van Gundy was like, “Tom, it’s 3:15. They’ve only got 45 minutes.”

Two decades later, that would make the players revolt against the coach that could lead to dismissal. In an era when the league has become younger and player empowerment has grown so much bigger, Thibodeau has shed his old skin to get buy-in.

“So for him to open up,” Rose said after Friday’s practice. “And just like he ended up practice. We were still supposed to be on the court for like another half an hour or hour. But he cut it short just so that guys can get recovery. Back in the day, he wasn’t doing that. He was trying to maximize all the time that we had on the court because he wanted to win so bad. So it’s great to see him actually like adjusting, learning, and just knowing that it’s just a different league now.”

“The kids in the league now, they’re different. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that basketball is in a different place. You look at the tempo of the game, it’s changed. So guys need that recovery, and you need that energy to go out there and play the way that the game is being played right now.”

During his second sabbatical, Thibodeau visited teams around the league and learned something new from his coaching fraternity. He couldn’t believe when Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers head coach at that time, was holding practice for their young guys while the older guys were getting treatment and recovery.

“The league never stays the same. It’s always evolving and changing. And you want to make sure you’re keeping up with the times,” Thibodeau said in Wojnarowski’s podcast.

Thibodeau looked in the mirror and had an awakening. He realized his mistakes and vowed to be better when the next coaching opportunity came. And he made good of that promise evolving into a warmer and friendlier coach in his return to New York.

“Him being aware of it, that’s the biggest thing. Like sometimes you know how it is you want something so bad that you overlook the little [things], the nuances of like what got you there. And for him to be aware of it and to be able to catch it like that’s huge. I think it’s huge for the team,” Rose said.

But some things never change. Thibodeau’s trademark maniacal work ethic is still there, which this Knicks team has fully embraced.

Immanuel Quickley is one of the young guys in the team whom Thibodeau said the Knicks player who’s spending the most time in the gym.

“Every time I come here at 9 o clock, 10 o clock, he’s always in his room waving to me. So it’s great to have somebody to have a coach that’s putting just as much as time spending just as much as you. You want somebody that’s dedicated to their craft, who’s going to push the group to be the best as they can be and as individuals to be the best they can be. And that’s a big thing why we appreciate him,” Quickley said after Friday’s practice.

Mellowed by time and softened by experience, the new Tom Thibodeau has managed to push the right buttons to accelerate the Knicks’ timeline. It’s the old school and new age of coaching intersecting in between Seventh and Eighth avenues from 31st to 33rd Street that made Madison Square Garden a basketball paradise again. It has rejuvenated both the franchise and Thibodeau’s career.

“A lot of people think Thibs is crazy, but you know he’s more normal to me coming from coach Cal (John Calipari),” Quickley said, which elicited laughter from reporters. “So you know it’s great to have somebody like I say all the time, that pushes you, challenges you mentally, physically every day to be the best you can be. That’s what you want especially coming in the first year, second-year guys.”

“I think more of the coaches around the league are more you know kind of subtle how they come to the game or maybe like kind of relaxed but coach Thibs is going to push you to the max and that’s what you want.”

Perhaps it’s time to change Thibodeau’s long-held portrait to a liberal and friendlier coach who pushes his players to reach the summit.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

What drives Julius Randle: Winning NBA MVP and ending Knicks’ title drought

new york knicks, julius randle

Julius Randle had been counted out several times in his career.

Just last year, most Knicks fans wanted him out of New York. But he used the disappointing 2019-20 as his motivation to bring out the best in him.

With the backing of a new front office led by Leon Rose and a new coach in Tom Thibodeau, Randle did exactly that and carried the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

It was a dramatic improvement, a rarity in the NBA for players like Randle, who had drifted from team to team trying to find his footing in the league. He found a home in New York.

It was a season of many firsts for Randle: first NBA All-Star, first NBA playoffs, first individual award with the Most Improved Player, and the first selection in any All-NBA team.

“People really thought I had a great year last year. What continues to drive me is knowing that I have so much room to improve,” Randle said in the Mobil 1 Series “Behind the Drive”.

“Things like the Most Improved Player of the Year award show you my dedication and hard work. I think I’m just scratching the surface. This was the culmination of years and years of dedication and hard work.”

After a breakthrough season in the NBA, Randle has no plans of slowing down. Even after locking up a $117 million, four-year extension with the Knicks.

He has set lofty goals for himself during the duration of that deal.

“The next accolade would be the MVP, man,” Randle boldly declared. “I think that would be fitting. I think the ultimate goal is bringing a championship to the city of New York. So that’s what really drives me every day.”

The Knicks haven’t won an NBA championship since 1973. After their last NBA Finals appearance in 1999, what followed next was a long stretch of mediocrity and futility.

Randle vowed to change that.

The 26-year old forward learned life lessons at an early age that made him driven and ambitious.

“I felt like I always had that drive whether it comes from people that I look up to or my idols growing up like my mom seeing how hard she worked on a daily basis to provide for me and my sister,” Randle said.

Carolyn Kyles was a single mother who raised Julius and his older sister Nastassia to become tough and resilient. Kyles, a 6-foot-2 former basketball player for the University of Texas Arlington, schooled him on the court when he was young.

“My mom was definitely hard on me,” Randle said.

His mother and his sister would always beat him that make him cry.

“She would always kick my butt and it would truly upset me and I would be in tears. Honestly, it was a great lesson about determination and just pure will,” Randle said.

Those moments toughened up Randle, who grew up into a 6-foot-9 bully on the court in Kentucky that led him to become the Los Angeles Lakers’ lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He was thrilled to have played with the late Kobe Bryant, who was his idol growing up.

“I studied everything about Kobe growing up. When I got to L.A. as a rookie, I was really excited just to practice with him,” Randle said. “He called me up at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. bringing me all the way out to Orange County to work out. And just to have that example and be able to ask questions to a basketball genius was like ‘what more could I ask for?’

If Randle learned toughness and determination from his mother, he learned how to channel that to productivity on the court and improve every summer from Kobe.

“One of the things that I really learned from Kobe was when going to the summer, you list the things that you want to improve on — focus on one or two things. That’s what I did last summer. I was very specific about how I wanted to get better. And I’m doing the same thing this year focusing on footwork and finishing at the rim. Those little things could make the biggest difference,” Randle said.

Last summer, Randle focused on sharpening his shooting after a down year in 2019. The result was a dramatic 13-percent jump, leading to a career-high 41.1 percent shooting clip from long range last season. With the work he put in this summer coupled with the talent and shooting that the Knicks brought in, it’s safe to say that Randle will play more bully ball this season.

Thibodeau was also a big part of Randles’ success last season. The reigning two-time Coach of the Year empowered Randle to become the team’s leader after seeing how sharp he was during their bubble workouts that preceded training camp.

Many raised their eyebrows when Thibodeau declared that he saw a leader in Randle in their training camp. But he was right all along. Thibodeau knows one when he sees one.

“Thibs is absolutely amazing. Who he is as a coach, who he is as a person to his core, all he cares about is putting players in the best spot to win the game. I’ve never seen a coach works harder than him,” Randle said.

“There were times when I go to the gym at 9 o’clock at night and Thibs is still there studying, watching films. He always tells me the best form of leadership that you can give is the example that you set for others.”

Randle fully embraced that role. And the whole Knicks’ team followed him. He brought with him the work ethic that Kobe taught him.

In every city they played, Randle would have the team arrange a gym for himself to get some extra shots. He said that routine kept him in constant rhythm and kept him locked in. During his first year with the Knicks, not everybody on the team put in the extra work on the road as he did. That changed when Thibodeau took over as the coach as he established a culture of accountability.

“This is the first time that I have a team that they all came with me,” Randle said. “Now we have the whole team bus taking us to the gym because everybody on the team wants to go and get extra shots and extra work. And I think that just became a part of the identity of our team that we just don’t want to be outworked.”

Thibodeau would always tell Randle that “true leadership is not only bringing the best out of yourself but also bringing the best out of others.” 

Randle exemplified that last season, whether it was playing hard on the court or being early and staying late in the gym to put in extra work. He was the Knicks’ alpha. He was their leader on and off the court. 

But after a disappointing first-round exit in the playoffs where his performance dipped, Randle is being counted out again by some people who view his breakout year as a fluke.

It’s hard to count out somebody who has that drive to become one of the greatest in the game.


The Mobil 1 Behind the Drive campaign, a unique offseason NBA content series and sweepstakes to reward fans with unique gifts and experiences, has partnered with prominent sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache to create custom, hand-painted sneakers inspired by the Mobil 1™ brand. These extremely rare kicks are now available as Behind the Drive prizes.

Watch Mobil 1 partners Randle and Karl Anthony Towns unbox the custom sneakers, with Mache describing the making-of process and going behind the scenes on his design motivation. 

Fans can join the Behind the Drive sweepstakes at gobehindthedrive.com.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Reacting to a Knicks mock trade for Minnesota star Karl Anthony-Towns

karl anthony-towns, knicks

The New York Knicks struggled during the postseason for a variety of reasons, one of them being a lack of scoring production from their big men. Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson simply couldn’t get the job done offensively, despite being solid defenders and shot blockers. With Mitchell Robinson heading into the final year of his deal and averaging just 8.4 points over three seasons of play, the team could be looking into a more efficient scorer at the position.

There are several players who could fit the bill, but one rumor indicates potential interest in Minnesota Timberwolves star, Karl Anthony-Towns. Adding an elite scoring center to a team that already has a Julius Randle and RJ Barrett represents a significant addition, but at what cost?

Brett Siegel of NBA Analysis proposed a trade scenario that would have the Knicks part ways with significant capital in order to land Towns:

Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: C Mitchell Robinson, F Kevin Knox II, F Obi Toppin, NYK 2021 1st Round Pick (Pick #19), DAL 2021 1st Round Pick (Pick #21), NYK 2023 1st Round Pick (Top-10 Protected)

Anthony-Towns is currently on a five-year, $158.2 million deal, and is set to earn $31 million next season with three years left on his contract. At 25 years old, the Minnesota star averaged 24.8 points, 4.5 assists, 10.6 rebounds, and shot .486 from the field this past season. In addition, he connected on .387 of his shots from downtown, averaging 6.3 per game. This was the lowest mark since his 2016 season, traditionally averaging over .400 from 3-PT land.

There is no question that Karl is a bonafide superstar, and luring him to New York would obviously command an astronomical allocation of assets. In this proposed deal, Minnesota, which is seemingly a rebuilding team, would add Robinson, Toppin, and three first-round selections.

The question is, is it worth parting ways with so much talent and assets for the Knicks?

Alternatively, they could consider an option like Myles Turner, who the Indiana Pacers might be looking to trade this off-season with Domantas Sabonis playing a similar role.

Turner is a poor man’s Anthony-Towns, averaging 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and shooting .477 from the field. However, he is an elite defender, averaging a career-high 3.4 blocks per game compared to Karl’s 1.1. He is a true defensive center with sufficient scoring prowess and untapped potential, which might fit Tom Thibodeau’s mold a bit more efficiently at a far lesser cost.

Personally, I’m not even convinced the proposed deal would sway Minnesota, as they would be recouping a former first-round bust, a second-year player who didn’t make a significant impact this past season, and Robinson in the final year of his rookie deal. The three first-round picks represent complete shots in the dark. Ultimately, they would be parting ways with one of the best players in the NBA for no guaranteed starters or producers, aside from Mitch, who was injured for a large portion of the 2020-21 season.

In addition, the Knicks might be on willing to part with this much capital in the first place, rather than allocating it toward a player like Turner and spending their first-round selections to upgrade the point guard position, or at least provide support behind a free agent signing.

Do you think the Knicks should attempt to trade for Karl Anthony-Towns or would this be a mistake? Comment below!

 

Towns, Oladipo on the way? Knicks’ future looks rosy on Leon Rose’s first year anniversary

New York Knicks, Leon Rose

On this day last year, the New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Leon Rose as team president, replacing Steve Mills.

While there were reservations of his hiring with some quarters hoped that the Knicks could have waited for Masai Ujiri—the architect of the Denver Nuggets’ emergence in the West and Toronto Raptors’ first NBA championship—to become available, Rose has exceeded expectations on his first year on the job.

Beginner’s Luck?

Since his hiring, Rose has made himself scarce and let the Knicks’ front office moves and play on the court do the talking.

In just one year, Rose has accomplished what Phil Jackson and Mills have failed to do — turn the league’s laughingstock into a rising stock.

The Knicks have the lowest payroll in the league, yet they are in the thick of the fight for a playoff spot. They made savvy moves in the offseason, picking up more draft capital and resisted the temptation to chase after stars on a decline and taking a nosedive on a shallow free agency pool. They unearthed a gem in rookie Immanuel Quickley while the jury is still out on their lottery pick Obi Toppin who can’t carve out significant minutes with Julius Randle emerging as an All-Star this season.

Rose’s biggest acquisition — Tom Thibodeau — has made the Knicks believe that they can win every game. They enter tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, an organization that the Knicks wanted to emulate in terms of stability and respectability, just a 1.5 underdog riding high on a three-game winning streak and the fourth-best record in the East.

Change of Image

The Knicks have put the league on notice.

The national media, who were laughing at the Knicks’ series of misfortunes, are now pivoting and giving their roses to Rose.

“Here’s the thing. They have one of the top former agents in the league running the organization in Leon Rose. Their no.2 in their team [William Wesley] — his specialty is relationship-building, and he’s known for working in the shadows. They’re playing in New York City. They have an abundance of draft picks, young assets, and cap space. The only sort of flaw in here is I’m not sure that every player wants to play for Thibs. But there are some who like him. I say that within the next 12 months, a star or a superstar player will demand a trade to New York,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his podcast The Hoop Collective.

Could the Knicks finally land a star?

Windhorst restrained himself from dropping names, but he hinted that executives around the league have their guesses.

Who could that be?

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Rose’s biggest client before he jumped on the Knicks’ job, has long been rumored to be a Knicks’ target.

Stefan Bondy of the Daily News added fuel to the fire when he hinted that Thibodeau is open to a reunion with Towns, who reportedly didn’t see eye to eye with his former coach during their brief partnership in Minnesota.

“I don’t know if Minnesota would ever make Karl-Anthony Towns available. But as bad as things ended for Thibodeau in Minnesota, I’ve heard that he’d be open to Karl-Anthony Towns again because Thibodeau just wants to win, and he thinks Karl-Anthony Towns will help him do that. And so I know that Karl-Anthony Towns is somebody that’s actually been reported before that the Knicks are monitoring as well,” Bondy said on SNY’s Putback last week.

Cornerstone or Trade Chip?

Bondy’s response came after Newsday’s Steve Popper posited that Randle could be a valuable trade piece down the line.

“Because of his contract and the way he’s producing, he’s a hugely viable asset around the league. He’s not overpaid. He’s got an out after next year if you want to pick his option next year. It’s not a long-term deal right now. Could I see him as a piece, maybe pair with another young asset, another young player, or a pick for Karl-Anthony Towns if Thibodeau wanted to go there? You could absolutely see something like that,” Popper said on SNY’s Putback. “And I think that’s a reasonable offer for Minnesota.”

KAT-Randle trade

Windhorst also shares the same view about the 26-year old Randle, who is in the midst of a career-year.

“I say by next year’s trade deadline, a star or a superstar player will force his way there, and they’re gonna be in a position to do that type of trade, and maybe that’s where Julius Randle comes in and does his greatest service for the Knicks especially if he continues to play this way because he could be a part of that trade,” Windhorst said on his podcast.

Knicks still Kings of New York

Meanwhile, First Take’s Max Kellerman, a former Knicks fan and a staunch critic of the team, has admitted that he’s recently watched a Knicks game — from beginning to end — in a long while.

“This is something new. They’re a young and exciting team. The culture seems healthy. It looks like [James] Dolan has finally got out of the way,” Kellerman said.

“My hats off to this young team. They’re a game over .500. They’re in fourth place in the conference. But to say ‘Are the Knicks back?’ No, this is something new. Look, they’re called the Knicks, the laughingstock of the league. This is new,” he added.

Kellerman went on to say that even if the Brooklyn Nets are the bigger story with the trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, the Knicks remain the kings of New York.

“What’s crazy to me is nationally the Nets are the story. People outside New York don’t care about the Knicks. They care about the Nets. But inside New York, in terms of locally, the Knicks still got it. People get more excited.

When they have a team that they can get behind when New York does because of effort especially and intensity when you know these young guys are working hard and laying it all out there, New York respects that in a different way,” Kellerman explained.

Attracting marquee free agents

With Rose effectively changing the Knicks’ image around the league, the once-moribund franchise is in a prime position to land a star finally.

For a team that has long been tied to dysfunction and incompetence, it’s a whiff of fresh air to have the national media talking about the Knicks in a positive light.

The Knicks may regress with a brutal second-half schedule–considered the third-hardest in the league–ahead of them. They may or may not be in the playoffs, but this season is already considered a victory for Rose and the Knicks in the big picture.

“Let me say this. You know why I was laughing at you guys when you’re thinking you’re gonna get KD (Kevin Durant) because players don’t go to bad cultures. The reason the Nets got those guys is because the culture was good. This Knicks team, if they keep doing this, the message they’re gonna send to potential free agents is it’s a good place to play, and then New York sells itself,” Kellerman said. “This could be the first time ever really that a top-flight free agent eventually signs with the Knicks.”

Will that be Victor Oladipo?

Oladipo, who recently rejected a two-year deal from Houston Rockets, is set to become a free agent. Even if Oladipo is not traded to the Knicks in the next two weeks, he will be a prime target in the free agency. If the Knicks keep on winning, they may give the Miami Heat a run for their money in the Oladipo sweepstakes this summer.

The Knicks may or may not land Oladipo.

But what Rose’s shrewd leadership has shown is important to their long-suffering fan base. He made the Knicks relevant again without being extravagant.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Twist of Fate: Knicks gift Thibodeau victory over his former team, Timberwolves fire Saunders

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau dodged a bullet against the league’s worst team and the last team he coached. But Ryan Saunders, the man who replaced him on the Minnesota bench, didn’t survive the night.

Thibodeau guided the New York Knicks to a narrow 103-99 victory in his first meeting against the Minnesota Timberwolves since his unceremonious exit in 2019. Then moments later, the Timberwolves announced the firing of Saunders.

The Knicks blew a 21-point lead but regained their composure just in time to avoid what could have been a disastrous loss before they welcome back fans, albeit only roughly 2,000, in The Garden on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors.

Thibodeau lamented their lackadaisical effort to close the end of the third quarter that spilled over to the start of the fourth quarter.

“The way [Minnesota] can score the ball, they can make up ground quickly. We’re striving to be a 48-minute team. We’ve got a long way to go. Hopefully, we learn from this,” Thibodeau said.

After the Knicks erected their largest lead, 86-65, the Timberwolves went on a 31-9 run capped off by a Karl-Anthony Towns’ hook shot.

Thibodeau went to his veterans in crunchtime to save the game.

Julius Randle and Alec Burks came through with clutch free throws while Taj Gibson, who was with Thibodeau in Minnesota, made a key defensive stop against the red-hot Towns.

The Timberwolves franchise center, who resented Thibodeau’s coaching style in Minnesota, pumped in 15 points and hauled down nine rebounds in the fourth quarter while sending Knicks center Nerlens Noel to the foul limit.

He was an unstoppable force until Gibson came in to replace Noel. Gibson, who played backup to Towns in Minnesota, knew exactly how to neutralize him.

Gibson forced Towns to miss a tough turnaround shot with 23.8 seconds left and the game on the line.

Burks then iced the win with four consecutive free throws.

“First off, just understanding the pace of the game. Understanding when Noel’s last foul was called, just being mentally ready for my teammates, just trying to inspire and do what I had to do. Just not let KAT get into the middle. I’ve been around him for a good amount of time and know that he wants to go to the middle of the lane and try to shoot the running hook or a floater. I just got lucky tonight and I just tried to kind of use my body. Just fight,” Gibson said about his late-game defensive gem.

Randle put up another strong effort with only two days left before the NBA All-Star reserves announcement on Tuesday. He scored 25 points, including the go-ahead free throws in the last 32 seconds, to pace the Knicks while adding 14 rebounds and four assists.

Randle chose to stick to the positives rather than dwell on their near meltdown.

“A lot of times when you lose a lead like that and momentum shifts in such a big way — the opposite way — it’s easy to crumble and cave in and let the game go. We just kept fighting, kept battling and got stops, and made plays down the stretch when we needed to. I’m proud of our team for that,” Randle said in his postgame chat with Knicks courtside reporter Rebeca Haarlow. “Obviously not the way we wanted to do it in the end, but we got it done and that’s all that matters.”

RJ Barrett also had a strong performance after seeing his minutes dropped to mid-20s in the previous four games that included fourth-quarter benching. This time, the sophomore swingman closed the game and delivered with 21 points on 10-for-20 shooting in 34 minutes. His last basket — a tough drive — gave the Knicks a 97-96 lead with under two minutes to go.

Towns, who struggled against the Knicks’ defense in the first three quarters, finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Timberwolves. His enormous effort was not enough to keep them from their 24th loss in 31 games, the league’s worst record.

It was the last straw for the Timberwolves who informed Saunders about his fate after the loss. According to multiple reports, the Timberwolves are set to hire Toronto Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch, who previously worked with team president Gersson Rosas in Houston.

Saunders, who was championed by Towns for his coaching style that he said suits the younger players, compiled a 43-94 record in his two-plus seasons.

However, Saunders only coached Towns and D’Angelo Russell together for only five games since the trade with Andrew Wiggins in February of 2019.

Thibodeau has since moved on and found redemption in New York. A young Knicks team has bought into his hard-nosed coaching style that catapulted them into a top-three defense in the league and continued to exceed expectations with their 15-16 record, currently seventh seed in the East.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Should the New York Knicks inquire about an Karl-Anthony Towns trade?

Could the New York Knicks pursue a Karl-Anthony Towns trade?

The New York Knicks might have signed numerous quality veteran free agents this off-season, but they’re far away from being an NBA Finals contending team. Missing out on superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving hurt their chances of competing this season for a playoff spot, but there are opportunities for potential trades out there.

One big name that could be on the Knicks’ radar this season is Minnesota Timberwolves center, Karl-Anthony Towns. The fifth-year player is one of the leagues more dominant options and recently signed a five-year, $190 million extension.

The Timberwolves haven’t given Towns much support to allow him to thrive, but signing him to a massive extension gave them a sigh of relief after trading Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. Minnesota likely isn’t hitting the panic button, but they could gain some valuable assets from the Knicks if they’re willing to play ball on a potential deal.

What would make Karl-Anthony Towns attractive for the New York Knicks?

One of the more appealing aspects of Towns is his ability to stay healthy and play maximum minutes. Over four years, he has averaged 34.4 minutes per game on 22.3 points. His rebounding totals are astronomical as well, averaging a total 12.4 rebounds per game.

He has also added a three-point shot to his arsenal, averaging 4.6 attempts and hitting on 1.8 per game. While that number is nothing to write home about, it is one attribute of his game that is important and can be developed further moving forward.

Pairing Karl-Anthony with Mitchell Robinson would make the Knicks one of the best defensive squads in the league immediately and playing two big men while featuring several quality shooters could be a recipe for success. This is all just a hypothetical situation after all, but an exciting and intriguing one, nonetheless.

New York has plenty of draft capital to use if the two teams theoretically engaged in talks. The Knicks own four first-round picks over the next three years, two of which come in 2021. I imagine they would likely have to give up two first-round picks for a player like Towns, but it would be well worth it considering his young age and dominance across-the-board.