It’s easy to fall into the cliche when discussing the next New York Knicks manager. Launch Tom Thibodeau in the “no player development” category and put Kenny Atkinson in the “good for a reconstruction team” section and this can be considered the end of the discussion.
Obviously, it’s more complicated than that. Not to mention, there are others vying for the job including Mike Miller, who has done a more than solid job of bringing the team to 17-27 while losing Marcus Morris and Reggie Bullock to the commercial deadline.
To begin with, Thibodeau’s relationship with Leon Rose is clearly relevant. Atkinson being banned from working on the nets by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant might seem like useful timing for the Knicks, but will James Dolan want to hire someone who could be labeled “denial of nets”? Few would be brave enough to predict what Dolan is thinking or what he will do.
Unlike Brooklyn, there are no established stars to dictate where the Knicks should go. This leaves the front office with responsibility almost totally. Thibodeau is the runaway favorite, but the Knicks are taking their time with this. That could be read as necessary, understandable caution and take some time to reflect on the rental. It could just as easily be considered weighty, an uncertain franchise on which direction to take.
Six weeks and an hour have passed on interviews since the start of the research. Many interviews in the second phase lasted three hours. A decision is approaching.
Thibs or Atkinson?
It is an understatement to do this on reconstruction with Atkinson or to contend with Thibodeau as soon as possible. Thibodeau is known for working hard with his players and taking long nights with them, but he also oversaw Derrick Rose as MVP and transformed Jimmy Butler into the caliber of All-NBA he is today. While Atkinson is highly applauded for cultivating young talent and sailing through a rocky period in Brooklyn, he also took them to the playoffs last season – the Knicks have not played a post-season game since 2013.
Jason Kidd, who reportedly impressed in his interview, is also in the mix. Kidd is currently an assistant to the Lakers and has disappointed as head coach.
Whatever the reasoning, Atkinson looks like a stranger to work. Given what he got in Brooklyn, launching the fate of an entire franchise, this must be a mistake. The nets were as close to the bottom as possible. They had no choice, they had no young talent. Patience and minutes towards young players took them away from depression to build an environment that was enough to attract two legitimate superstars.
The Knicks may not be programmed for such patience. Perhaps, however, it is not required. Their position, with available choices and some young talents in Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett and others, is not so terrible despite the product on the field in recent seasons. They can trade with a star if it becomes available and in the meantime they can continue to load the list with young players.
To suggest that Atkinson is the best hired person should not be a criticism of Thibodeau, who is well on his way to getting the job and will likely improve their situation. Both have their merits. Of what they both got in the NBA, however, Atkinson’s work in Brooklyn is comparable to what the Knicks should look for. It should be the crucial word: waiting as the nets did is not very much Madison Square Garden, and it is not very Dolan.