New York got its guy in Tom Thibodeau, but is he the right guy?

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As had seemed destined from the start, the New York Knicks landed their guy.

Tom Thibodeau will be the next coach in New York. It’s a big-name hire by a big-name franchise in search of a big-time turnaround — in the past 16 years, New York has made the playoffs just three times and won just one playoff series (and that was seven years ago).

But is Thibodeau the right hire?

Gregg Popovich thinks it is, telling the Associated Press:

“Tommy’s a seasoned veteran who it goes without saying understands what wins and what loses. He knows how to put a program together, create a culture and be demanding — and at the same time, make people accountable.”

Thibodeau is demanding, and he knows how to get wins, but the man has no chill — how hard pushes to get those wins has led to backlash and injuries in previous stops. Where Popovich has understood when to ease up on the throttle to preserve his teams — yet still get playoff wins — Thibodeau has not shown that deft touch.

Thibodeau’s marriage to the Knicks can succeed, but it’s going to take changes from both the Knicks organization and from Thibodeau himself.

EASE OFF THE THROTTLE

Thibodeau’s win-all-the-games coaching mentality has led to short rotations and heavy minutes for his stars. In his last full season in Minnesota, Thibs had both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule, there were no nights off. There are some around the league who look at the arc of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah‘s careers and wondered if load management would have changed things.

Wearing guys down is going to fly with the Knicks, a team looking to develop young players. Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett should get plenty of minutes — and plenty of rope to make mistakes and learn from them — but New York does not want to wear down its young stars. More than that, the Knicks should have a couple of good locker room veterans on the team as mentors, but Thibodeau can’t lean on those veterans to try and stockpile wins with a tight eight-man rotation.

The Knicks need to find and develop other young players (like the Nets did one borough over, giving Spencer Dinwiddie room to grow) and that comes with patience and using a deep bench.

Thibodeau spent his season away from coaching traveling the league, talking to other coaches and watching them work. He told  ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod he learned a lot from Doc Rivers — the Clippers’ coach known for having the fewest practices in the league.

“But [Rivers] is the best at managing the day before, in between, they had that day off, but everybody came in. And their young guys really work, and the older guys were getting treatment and recovery. So understanding who your team is and what everyone needs.”

If Thibodeau has really learned that lesson, the Knicks will be in better shape.

KNICKS NEED TO DRAFT, FIND MORE TALENT

Talent wins in the NBA. Yes, coaching matters. Chemistry matters. Guys buying into the system matters. But at the end of the day, talent wins out.

The Knicks don’t have enough of it.

Robinson shows real promise. Barrett has potential but the raw counting stats he put up as a rookie hid some ugly basketball. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina look like fringe rotation players, not key contributors. Julius Randle raises the floor of this team but is not considered part of the long-term plans at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks need a scouting department and front office that not only makes good calls when in the lottery, but also finds guys at the end of the first round or early in the second who can be developed in a couple of years into contributors. That is always a bit hit and miss, even with the best teams, but the best teams find guys. Right now Toronto is the gold standard of finding and developing players — Pascal Siakam was taken 27th, OG Anunoby was 23rd — and the Knicks need to move closer to that model.

THEN THIBODEAU NEEDS TO DEVELOP THEM

Tom Thibodeau has some development success in his past. Derrick Rose was the youngest MVP in league history under Thibs. He also helped turn Jimmy Butler (a No. 30 pick) into the player he is today. However, for the most part Thibodeau couldn’t be bothered with young players because they could not contribute in the short term to winning.

That has to change. It’s both a matter of mindset and of Thibodeau bringing in development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

Thibodeau needs to build a culture of player development in New York, something that has not existed there before.

It doesn’t mean the Knicks can’t take a swing at a big trade, something the franchise feels it is poised to do. However, it needs to follow more of the model the Lakers did: Draft and develop young players (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart), trying to win with them while also building up their trade value, then using those players when the time comes to make a bold move (for the Lakers it was Anthony Davis). Right now, the Knicks future picks have more value than anyone outside maybe Robinson on the roster.

Thibodeau has a reputation as a defensive innovator, but his defenses were unimpressive in Minnesota. Part of that was certainly personnel — Karl-Anthony Towns is not going to be confused for Dikembe Mutombo — but Thibs didn’t lift players up or find a system that fits their skills. In New York, he has to build from the defense out (and has a potentially strong anchor in the paint with Robinson) and make it all work.

The Knicks are not a turnkey situation where Thibodeau is walking into a playoff team. A culture needs to be built (one James Dolan doesn’t meddle with). Talent needs to be added to the roster, then developed. Do all that, build a place that superstars want to come, and the power of playing in New York will give the Knicks an advantage. Right now the big stars are choosing Brooklyn first. It shows how much work needs to be done.

Thibodeau could be the guy to lead New York back to the spotlight. Maybe. He’s going to get the chance.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
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The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.