Up then down, Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau trying to become rare coach who gets back on track


Kobe Bryant pined for the Lakers to get him. The Pelicans organized their search around him. The Magic prepared a large offer. The Nets showed interest before even hiring a general manager. The Timberwolves proposed giving him front-office control. Even teams without an opening had interest.

Tom Thibodeau was the hottest coach on the market just a few years ago.

And no wonder.

Thibodeau was coming off an awesome run with the Bulls. He won Coach of the Year in his first season as a head coach. Despite superstar Derrick Rose missing significant time due to injury, Thibodeau guided Chicago to the playoffs all five of his seasons there. He won nearly 65% of his games – which ranked sixth all-time.* His exit from the Bulls was attributed to a rift with management far more than a reflection of his coaching ability.

*Minimum: 300 games. At the time, Thibodeau ranked behind only Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Gregg Popovich, K.C. Jones and Red Auerbach.

Simply, Thibodeau was a coaching superstar and unrestricted free agent. He practically had the pick of the litter with coaching vacancies.

He chose Minnesota.

And then failed there.

The Timberwolves fired Thibodeau in his third season. Minnesota made the playoffs only once and won only one playoff game.

Won-loss record is far from a perfect measure of coaching ability. Player talent is such an important factor in record and often outside a coach’s control.

But coaches who win in their first job tend to have the power to be highly selective with their second job, to position themselves to win again. Fail in that second job, and it often reflects quite poorly on the coach.

In NBA history, 38 coaches had a winning record in their first job then a losing record in their second job. Just six of those coaches have produced a winning record in their third job.

Hired by the Knicks, Thibodeau will attempt to become the seventh.

Here’s every coach who had a winning record in his first job then losing record in his second job. Those who had winning records in their third jobs are in orange:

Coach First Second Third
Tom Thibodeau 2011-2015 CHI: 65% 2017-2019 MIN: 48% 2021-2021 NYK: ?
Frank Vogel 2011-2016 IND: 58% 2017-2018 ORL: 33% 2020-2020 LAL: 78%
Nate McMillan 2001-2005 SEA: 54% 2006-2012 POR: 50% 2017-2020 IND: 57%
Dave Joerger 2014-2016 MEM: 60% 2017-2019 SAC: 40%
Jason Kidd 2014-2014 BRK: 54% 2015-2018 MIL: 48%
Lionel Hollins 2009-2013 MEM: 56% 2015-2016 NJN: 40%
Maurice Cheeks 2002-2005 POR: 54% 2006-2009 PHI: 45% 2014-2014 DET: 42%
Larry Drew 2011-2013 ATL: 56% 2014-2014 MIL: 18%
Byron Scott 2001-2004 NJN: 52% 2005-2010 NOH: 48% 2011-2013 CLE: 28%
Avery Johnson 2005-2008 DAL: 73% 2011-2013 NJN: 34%
Alvin Gentry 1998-2000 DET: 50% 2001-2003 LAC: 40% 2009-2013 PHO: 52%
Scott Skiles 2000-2002 PHO: 59% 2003-2008 CHI: 49% 2009-2013 MIL: 47%
P.J. Carlesimo 1995-1997 POR: 56% 1998-2000 GSW: 29% 2008-2009 SEA/OKC: 22%
Isiah Thomas 2001-2003 IND: 53% 2007-2008 NYK: 34%
Brian Hill 1994-1997 ORL: 65% 1998-2000 VAN: 20% 2006-2007 ORL: 46%
Rick Adelman 1989-1994 POR: 65% 1996-1997 GSW: 40% 1999-2006 SAC: 63%
John Lucas 1993-1994 SAS: 66% 1995-1996 PHI: 26% 2002-2003 CLE: 30%
Dave Cowens 1997-1999 CHA: 61% 2001-2002 GSW: 24%
Mike Dunleavy 1991-1992 LAL: 62% 1993-1996 MIL: 33% 1998-2001 POR: 64%
Rick Pitino 1988-1989 NYK: 55% 1998-2001 BOS: 41%
Chris Ford 1991-1995 BOS: 54% 1997-1998 MIL: 42% 1999-2000 LAC: 21%
Jimmy Rodgers 1989-1990 BOS: 57% 1992-1993 MIN: 19%
Matt Guokas 1986-1988 PHI: 57% 1990-1993 ORL: 34%
Paul Westhead 1980-1982 LAL: 69% 1983-1983 CHI: 34% 1991-1992 DEN: 27%
Mike Schuler 1987-1989 POR: 60% 1991-1992 LAC: 41%
Willis Reed 1978-1979 NYK: 51% 1988-1989 NJN: 30%
Bill Russell 1967-1969 BOS: 66% 1974-1977 SEA: 49% 1988-1988 SAC: 29%
Jack Ramsay 1969-1972 PHI: 53% 1973-1976 BUF: 48% 1977-1986 POR: 55%
Jack McKinney 1980-1980 LAL: 71% 1981-1984 IND: 38% 1985-1985 KCK: 11%
Gene Shue 1967-1973 BAL: 53% 1974-1978 PHI: 47% 1979-1980 SDC: 48%
Larry Costello 1969-1977 MIL: 61% 1979-1979 CHI: 36%
Cotton Fitzsimmons 1971-1972 PHO: 59% 1973-1976 ATL: 44% 1978-1978 BUF: 33%
Butch van Breda Kolff 1968-1969 LAL: 65% 1970-1972 DET: 47% 1973-1973 PHO: 43%
Dolph Schayes 1964-1966 PHI: 54% 1971-1972 BUF: 27%
Harry Gallatin 1963-1965 STL: 58% 1965-1966 NYK: 40%
Al Cervi 1950-1957 SYR: 59% 1959-1959 PHW: 44%
John Kundla 1949-1957 MNL: 61% 1958-1959 MNL: 41%
Ken Loeffler 1947-1948 STB: 61% 1949-1949 PRO: 20% x

Seasons are listed by their ending year. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following season.

Many of these coaches never got hired again – often for seemingly deserved reasons. Still, even of just the 19 coaches who got a third job, more than two-thirds had a losing record in that third job.

Two of the major exceptions are coaching right now – the Lakers’ Frank Vogel and Pacers’ Nate McMillan.

Vogel coached Indiana so well, Larry Bird firing him sparked plenty of outrage. With options, Vogel chose the Magic next because of their young core. But he took Orlando nowhere and got fired after two years. His market dried up… until the Lakers hired him last summer. Though Vogel is still in his first season in Los Angeles, he has looked darned capable in the tricky situation of coaching LeBron James.

After overachieving with the SuperSonics, McMillan earned a larger contract with the talented Trail Blazers. But Portland underwhelmed with McMillan and fired him. He resurfaced with the Pacers years later amid questions about whether his old-school style would work in the modern NBA. It does. McMillan has kept Indiana playing hard, defending effectively and winning amid roster turnover.

Maybe Thibodeau will continue to reverse the trend.

He was in over his head as team president with the Timberwolves, both in managing the roster and collaborating within the franchise. With that responsibility off his plate, he can get back to just coaching.

However, Thibodeau’s once-revolutionary defensive system has lost effectiveness as offenses have improved spacing in response. Really, Thibodeau deserves more credit for sparking the modern NBA as we know it. But, in the evolution, he has also lost a competitive advantage.

And Thibodeau must rely on the Knicks, led by new president Leon Rose, to form a winning roster. That’s no safe bet.

Because he failed in Minnesota, Thibodeau is about to learn a harsh reality: It’s even harder for a coach to win after losing than win after winning. The good-looking jobs just aren’t available to losing coaches. Losing coaches are stuck trying to rebuild their reputation with teams like the Knicks.

It’s a treacherous hill to climb when sliding the wrong way.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets


DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“First, It’s part of our DNA for one, everyone on this team has been knocked down, we’ve faced adversity and gotten up again,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “Second, we have a lot of experience in these close games.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% from 3 in three of their four wins over the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason. This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.