Tom Thibodeau may have to live outside his comfort zone to fix Knicks

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Another night in San Antonio, on the other side of the curtain, in another basketball venue, Patrick Ewing was filling out notebooks talking about his plight. It was in the old Alamodome, June 15, 1999. The next night the Knicks made an unfortunate NBA Finals debut against the Spurs of David Robinson and Tim Duncan and Avery Johnson.

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Ewing was being philosophical on this day.

“We have other people,” he said. “They have had to move for us to get here.”


On the other side of that curtain, one of those people, Marcus Camby, was drinking from a bottle of water and talking about his strange 1999 journey from Pariah to the likes of People, disliked by fans. Because his arrival had cost Knicks Charles Oakley an unwanted cost. His coach, Jeff Van Gundy, preferred because he was a slightly different player – and personality – than Van Gundy.

until Jeff Van Gundy realized something later that year.

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And Van Gandy began to lean towards Camby. And as a result, the Knicks found themselves as unlikely participants in the finals, after previously seeded eighth and last, and both Van Gundy and Camby heard Madison Square Garden chanting his name several times in the playoffs.

“Patrick told me this over the last few days and he’s right,” Camby said. “He said I need to be more than just a feel-good story now. I need to be the biggest story.”

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The rise of Cambi was just one proof that Jeff Van Gundy – commonly regarded as having stuck in his own way, for better or worse, that whole year – had understood the lessons of trying new things over time. When old things are no more. do not work, or when circumstances dictate the need for difference.

Tom Thibodeau

Latrell Sprewell was another person who was slow to sense Garden and Van Gundy’s embrace; His arrival had made another popular Nike, John Starks disposable. And yet the season played on the ground — and especially as the playoffs played out — was no greater folk hero in New York City than Sprewell.

Even old coaches can learn new tricks.

if they want.

But it sometimes takes time. It takes patience. Sometimes it takes frustration. In 1999, Van Gundy was nearly fired at the end of the year (Ernie Grunfeld was let go instead) and then, in the post season, the rising audience of Phil Jackson and his aftermath still only had six rings making him. To get out of his comfort zone.

Tom Thibodeau faces no such Sword of Damocles, not yet, not defending NBA Coach of the Year. And while it sometimes seems like the sky has been falling straight on his basketball team lately, the Knicks have still barely finished a quarter of their season. It’s time to regroup, it’s time to get better, it’s time to change the narrative.

And time for the coach to adapt to different things.

It is clear that he is ready to listen. He has already sold Kemba Walker. He promised more changes for Tuesday’s Knicks-Spurs game at the AT&T Center, possibly replacing Mitchell Robinson with Nerlens Noel in the lineup. There are other things he can do that go against his default position, whether it’s giving Obie Toppin more minutes, Evan Fournier fewer minutes, Quentin Grimes more regular minutes.

Jeff Van Gundy with the Knicks in 1999
Jeff van Gundy would have to accept the change with Marcus Camby for the 1999 Knicks to reach his potential.
Charles Weinzelberg

This is not the preferred path for a coach with a strong belief and a strong sense of doing things the right way. It took everything but a papal decree before Alfrid Payton was dropped from the starting lineup last spring despite all the evidence pointing to Patton being in a deep basketball funk. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t “mall” lineup changes in the NBA, where there’s hardly any magical elixir available.

But the Knicks don’t exist in a perfect world and their season now depends on Thibodeau’s counterpunch. Once upon a time, Thebes’ friend, Van Gundy, embraced life outside his comfort zone and it landed him in San Antonio. Twenty years later, same city, same need. What will Thibodeau do in the next few weeks? The story is as big as this game.


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