It’s always been awkward for Jeff Van Gundy to throw his hat into the ring for the Knicks’ head-coaching job.
His buddy Tom Thibodeau has long been considered a front-runner and he has the utmost respect for interim coach Mike Miller, who was on his Team USA staff that competed in World Cup qualifier games.
But now that the Knicks have no more games, Van Gundy was willing to endorse Thibodeau, though he said it was “a little uncomfortable” because of his respect for Miller.
In raving about Thibodeau, Van Gundy touted him as more than a defensive master. The former Bulls and Timberwolves head coach was on Van Gundy’s staffs previously with the Knicks and Rockets.
“Tom Thibodeau is a great, great basketball coach – like, great,” Van Gundy said on SiriusXM radio. “And I think unfortunately for him the perception of him on the sidelines as this gruff, nasty dude is not even close to who is he personally. Like, he is a great guy. He’s fun to be around. He’s enjoyable to be around, and he loves basketball. He loves NBA basketball and he works at it and he is elite in his profession.”
Knicks president Leon Rose had waited until their season was officially ended by the NBA’s vote for a 22-team restart before conducting interviews.
Miller, Kenny Atkinson and Mike Woodson are expected to receive interviews but Thibodeau, league sources believe, is the clear frontrunner. One league source believes other interviews are merely “courtesy” ones.
With the Rockets, Nets and 76ers occupied until late August with the season restart, the Knicks don’t even have competition.
“I hope he gets another opportunity to be a head coach because if you look at his body of work he certainly deserves it and any team that may interview him or hire him would be very fortunate to have him as a head coach.,” Van Gundy said. “He gets thought of as a defensive coach but if you look at his best teams in Chicago and in Minnesota they were very high level statistically speaking offensive teams and I think it’s been overlooked when people try to evaluate Tom from the outside.”
Van Gundy may be in line to succeed Mike D’Antoni, a free agent, in Houston once the restart is over. Van Gundy still lives in Houston, where he coached the Rockets for four seasons before becoming a star broadcaster in 2007.
Thibodeau, 62, last coached during the 2018-19 season in Minnesota but got fired after having trouble reaching the young players. Van Gundy believes his inability to relate to millennials is another myth.
“Tremendous well-balanced, good player development – he’s gotten young players much, much better,” Van Gundy said. “So not speaking about the Knicks job, but speaking in general, Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the world and I hope to see him get another head job.”