Tom Thibodeau has full rotation autonomy and support from Knicks president Leon Rose, even if it means the popular younger players aren’t getting much playing time.
That was the message on the team’s in-house network from Rose, who was asked if the front office has set guidelines on playing time distribution.
“There’s no edicts,” Rose said. “We love our young players, too. Believe me. Thibs is the coach. Thibs decides who plays, how many minutes, what the rotations are. The one thing I know about Thibs – he’s going to make decisions based on who is going to win us a basketball game. That’s his role and I have full confidence in that.”
The context is the struggles last season of a starting lineup that featured veterans Julius Randle, Alec Burks and Evan Fournier, which contrasted the strong play of an exciting bench of Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes.
Fans were especially smitten with Toppin, the 2022 Slam Dunk Champion, who averaged only 17 minutes last season as Randle’s backup. Despite Randle’s struggles and emotional outbursts, Thibodeau never strayed from his starting power forward.
Toppin’s first extended opportunity didn’t arrive until late in the season, when Randle started to miss games because of a minor quad injury. The Knicks went 7-3 to finish the campaign with Toppin exploding for 42 points in the finale.
The circumstances furthered an idea of Thibodeau being too rigid to coach through a rebuild. Still, Rose said Thibodeau isn’t under added pressure to win in Year 3.
“I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan,” Rose said. “We’re not making any excuses for anything that happened last year. I love Thibs’ phrase – we’re going to win or we’re going to learn.”
The low point of Thibodeau’s season was around the All-Star break, when RJ Barrett suffered an ankle sprain in garbage time of a blowout and the team lost 14 of 16. There were rumors of in-fighting and calls for Thibodeau to get fired, but Rose never spoke publicly to squash the gossip during the season.
Rose was emphatic in his support for Thibodeau on Friday.
“Thibs, two years ago – Coach of the Year,” Rose added. “He’s been twice Coach of the Year in his career. I’m so excited about starting on Tuesday. And one of the reasons I’m so excited is having Thibs lead the group.”