Among his many talents, Tom Thibodeau clearly knows how and when to deliver bad news. If you’re planning to announce that you’re playing a universally respected and beloved New York basketballer in just 20 games at his homecoming, do so the same day the Mets sign Max Scherzer to a historic deal. are doing.
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Kemba Walker is most definitely out, and Shazer is definitely in, and tomorrow there will be other stories that keep you awake in a city that never sleeps. But between here and baseball’s inaugural day, when Scherzer and Jacob deGrom will toss a coin in the dugout to see who starts, the 11-9 Knicks will play a lot of worthwhile basketball games.
And Thibodeau just showed that he would be fearless in coaching them.
He’s working hard on his 64th birthday, so what’s there to be afraid of doing the right thing? Thibodeau is on his third head coaching job in the NBA, and almost certainly his last. He’s not a 40-year-old who needs to defend the long career in front of him, and one who might be inclined to play people his boss likes to play him.
After trying and failing in Chicago and Minnesota, Thibodeau is intent on winning a championship before completing his assignment. It was already clear to him, and to any educated fan of basketball watching, that Walker was not going to help him get closer to that goal.
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Over the summer, when Knicks president Leon Rose signed the former Hornets and Celtics point guard to a two-year, $18 million deal, the investment was by no means amiss. Out of Bronx public housing and Gauchos and Rice High in Harlem, Walker was a story that wasn’t a good fit.
He was 31, only 6 feet tall, and a poor defender is now being asked to play for a coach who values defense over everything else. Walker also suffered a knee injury that limited him to 43 games last season, and it ruled him out of the final two games of Boston’s first-round playoff loss to Brooklyn. 36–36 The Celtics decided that Walker was not part of their solution and introduced him to Oklahoma City, which gave a buyout to the point guard which allowed him to go home.
Rose signed a younger, older, injured player who was not valued by a weaker team in his own division, so Thibodeau’s announcement on Monday was always a question of when, what not.
“It’s a tough decision,” said the Knicks’ coach, “but you always have to do what you think is best for the team. … Kemba as a person, as number one, and I have a lot of respect for what he has achieved in this league.”
So has everyone who has been a part of his basketball life. An ardent supporter of the ultimate pro, Walker has a generosity of spirit that makes him very easy to root for. Called to introduce Walker and fellow newbie Evan Fournier at a Garden news conference – another player Boston did not keep – Kemba’s mother, Andrea, said she was glad her son was joining the Knicks in his later years. was, and that the pressure of playing would have been too much for him to handle in New York just outside of Connecticut.
“I think he’s now at a point in his life and career that he’s ready for it all,” Andrea Walker said that day.
The dream was for his son to build a memorable garden buzzer-beater for the Knicks he once built for Yukon against Pitt in a Big East tournament. The reality was that Walker had lost the explosiveness that made him an NCAA champ in 2011, Michael Jordan’s first-round pick in Charlotte and a four-time All-Star.
His plus/minus with the Knicks is -122 in 441 minutes, a terrible stat made worse by the fact that his primary backup Derrick Rose weighs in at +113 at 390 minutes. So Thibodeau had to do something. In fact, with his start at a combined plus/minus of -357 and his top five reserve at a combined +388, Thebes may have to make more changes than just replacing Alec Burks with Walker.
Burke is a bigger, better player on both sides of the ball, and his coach cited size and defense and the need to tighten rotation at the end of the bench as reasons to demote Walker.
“I don’t like the way we’re trending,” Thibodeau said.
So he made a move that was trending on Twitter on a blockbuster baseball day. Thibodeau didn’t care that he was effectively rejecting the deal made by Rose, her boss, and former agent. He just made the Knicks better by proving that he wouldn’t be afraid to train them.