Tom Thibodeau reveals Knicks’ anti-tank strategy
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Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said repeatedly Tuesday on Media Day he’s not playing the younger guys if they don’t give the team the best chance at winning.
The Knicks’ newly remixed roster is geared more for future success than the present, but don’t tell that to the new head coach.
In ignoring dire forecasts the Knicks are headed for a high lottery seed after a lame performance in free agency, Thibodeau said he is still playing to win.
“Nothing will be given to anyone,’’ Thibodeau said on a Zoom interview. “You’re going to have to earn your minutes. Those decisions on rotation will be based on performance and what gives the team the best chance of winning. A player is not going to get minutes just to get minutes. You have to impact winning, you have to put the team first.’’
Two weeks ago, the Knicks drafted former Dayton stud power forward Obi Toppin and Kentucky combo guard Immanuel Quickley in the first round to add to their youthful vibe. Thibodeau has a history of not overloading rookies with minutes.
“There’s a lot that goes into development,’’ Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes people say, well, you have to play them in a game. And you do. But you also have practices, which is where it starts. You have to get that part down first. Then you have to have film study, meetings with your coaches and you also have to have the opportunity to use the G-League.
“There’s a lot of different ways to develop but also understanding the importance of winning and how important that is. Things are going to be earned. They’re not going to be given to players.”
The biggest misnomer to tanking is a notion clubs try to purposely lose games. In actuality, tanking’s essence is furnishing more minutes to young players to aid their development even if it doesn’t give a club the best chance to win that night.
It’s a vexing debate for a rebuilding team. In this case, giving playing time to, say, veteran small forward Alec Burks, and keeping 2018 lottery pick Kevin Knox out of the rotation might be a tough pill for Knicks fans to swallow.
The flip slide to going young — one that Thibodeau embraces — is free agents won’t come to a losing program. Hence, Thibodeau has always believed the won-loss record is vital.
“There’s obviously different roads you can go down,’’ he said. “And I think if you study it, how teams are built — and I went through this in Minnesota — the draft is critical, free agency is critical, player development is critical and trade opportunities are critical. And when you look back at Philadelphia and what they went through with a lot of losing, they were able to get [Joel] Embiid and [Ben] Simmons. But when they added veterans, that’s when they took off.”
Knicks president Leon Rose, who was not available for comment and hasn’t spoken in four months, did not make a free-agent splash.
After striking out on his top targets, Rose pivoted and saved cap flexibility for the well-stocked 2021 class and to facilitate a future trade for a standout. Rose gave out one-year deals and declined to match Charlotte’s four-year, $120 million offer to Gordon Hayward.
“We wanted to be disciplined and we were,’’ Thibodeau said. “There’ll be other opportunities moving forward. But we concentrate on the players we have here.”
Those players have Las Vegas branding the Knicks with an Over/Under of 22.5 wins in a 72-game season — tied for fewest in the league. The Knicks have been out of the playoffs seven straight seasons.
“I never really pay attention to that stuff,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you go back over the years it’s really meaningless. What I look at is, ‘OK. This is our team. How can we get better? What gives us the best chance to win?’ It really doesn’t matter what the outside people think, whether it’s Vegas or anyone else. It’s what we think. If we come in each and every day and we do the right things and we play for each other, good things will happen.”
Thibodeau said he had input in offseason moves and that RJ Barrett, Knox, Toppin and Quickley have “high upsides.’’
How much they actually play remains to be seen.
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