Knicks’ turnaround earns Thibodeau Coach of the Year Award

By Sopan Deb

Tom Thibodeau, the head coach of the New York Knicks, has won his second Coach of the Year Award.

All it took was engineering a rapid turnaround by one of the league’s marquee franchises.

Thibodeau guided the Knicks to a surprising fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the playoffs this year, surpassing most preseason expectations while using largely the same roster that finished near the bottom of the league the season before.

Asked on TNT’s “Inside The NBA” whether he had to change his messaging to adapt to today’s NBA, Thibodeau, who started as an assistant in the league in 1989-90, said Monday, “I think you always have to look at how you’re delivering the message, but it doesn’t change all the things that you believe in.”

“What you think goes into winning and that’s the hard work, the discipline, the sacrifice, playing for each other, and that was the best thing about our team,” Thibodeau said on the show after being announced as the winner by the NBA. “Every day you look forward to seeing them. Sometimes we fell short, but the next day they came back with great determination and their willingness to play for each other was special.”

Thibodeau also won the award in his first season as an NBA head coach, when he led the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record during the 2010-11 season. A decade later, with Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson again on his roster, he has become the first coach to win the award in his first season with two different franchises, and the 10th to win it multiple times. The last Knicks coach to win was Pat Riley after the 1992-93 season. Thibodeau was an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs then.

Thibodeau garnered 43 first-place votes and 351 total points, only slightly ahead of Monty Williams, the head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Williams finished in second place with 340 points, despite having more first-place votes (45). Thibodeau’s margin of victory was the smallest for the award since the current voting system was instituted during the 2002-2003 season, according to the NBA. Williams helped lead a turnaround in Phoenix, guiding the Suns, who had not made the playoffs since 2010, to the second seed in the Western Conference and into a second-round playoff series against Denver.

Third place, with 161 points, went to Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder, whose team had the best record in the NBA. Members of the news media vote for the award, but reporters for The New York Times do not participate.

Under Thibodeau, the Knicks made the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13. But once the Knicks got there, they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in five games and looked overmatched.

Still, this season was an unexpected success for the franchise. Thibodeau turned the Knicks into one of the best defensive teams in the league and one that was often competitive on a nightly basis, a stark difference from most of the Knicks teams of the 21st century. Thibodeau also helped develop forward Julius Randle into an All-Star for the first time in his career, and last week, Randle won the league’s Most Improved Player Award.

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