Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau shares the blame for Julius Randle’s mistakes

Baseball’s opening day is fast approaching and pretty soon the Knicks will be free to watch as many Yankees and Mets games as they like. So let’s put Tom Thibodeau’s two seasons in New York in a balls and strikes context.

Last year, Thibs was a league MVP, hitting .325 with 37 homers and 118 RBI.

That year, Thibs was quite a mess on the plate, hitting a Charmin-soft .269 with 14 homers and an endless parade of runners falling behind on base.

Just like good players have bad seasons, good coaches have bad seasons. With his team heavily favored missing the play-in tournament — the lowest of any low NBA bar — Thibodeau must accept his share of the blame. And his most pernicious failure was his inability to do what he has consistently done over the last year:

Get the best out of Julius Randle.

It would soon be fun watching the Knicks blame the game as 10 better Eastern Conference teams take their postseason chances. No one knows if Leon Rose, the agent-turned-CEO, has any idea what he’s up to, or if he’d be better off finding work as a mime artist. No one knows if Randle has damaged his trade value enough through substandard play and his get-me-out-of-here body language that his team will have a hard time moving him for a decent return this summer.

Yes, Randle and Rose will take most of the heat, and rightly so. Rose for the steps that didn’t help last year’s No. 4 East, and Randle for signing the big contract after winning the Most Improved Player Award and second-team All-NBA honors and then moving on often behaved in ways he wanted to be somewhere other than Madison Square Garden on game nights.

Julius Randle has looked unhappy with the Knicks in recent weeks.
NBAE via Getty Images

But Thibodeau, La Liga Coach of the Year 2020/21, needs to be right behind them on that line in 2022. Though he’ll never be forgotten for the gift he gave to the city when he first got his dream job, and though he should never again be asked to pay for a meal or drink in the Tristate area, Thibs delivered in Year 2 didn’t come up with a worthy sequel, partly because it couldn’t stop its best player from tearing everyone and everything down the abyss.

So, before meeting Charlotte in the garden on Wednesday night, I effectively asked Thibodeau why he felt the unequivocal love affair between Randle and the town was being rushed to divorce court so damn fast last season.

“Every year is different,” he replied. “You are faced with new and different challenges. This year was not like last year. Hopefully we can finish like last year. Things change all the time and… I guess that’s part of the territory. You’ll get a lot of praise, you’ll get a lot of blame. That’s the way it works, so stay focused, come in the next day and just keep working. Just keep working.”

The Knicks finished 11th in the Eastern Conference under Tom Thibodeau and started Wednesday.
USA TODAY sports

Thibodeau didn’t sound like he was speaking to reporters gathered in the Garden’s interview room; it sounded like he was speaking directly to Randle, who wasn’t there.

Does Thibodeau say these things to Randle behind closed doors? Has he privately attacked him directly after the star player chastised fans and showed a lack of interest in the team and lack of enthusiasm for his teammates’ achievements?

I asked the trainer a follow-up question about buttons, the kind that trainers are hired to push. Thibodeau challenged the right ones at Randle last year, and I wondered if he’d had trouble finding them this year.

“It’s not just a player,” he replied. “It’s your entire team. How do you get the best out of your group? Right now I want the focus to be, OK, the team is playing really well, playing basketball, and that’s where I want it to be. … When the season is over we go into everything. We’re going to look at the things we did well, the things we didn’t do as well as we would like and then we’ll try to make the improvements over the summer.”

And yes, even before the four-game winning streak, Thibodeau had absolutely earned the right over the summer to fix what’s broken. The guy’s still one of the better coaches in the league and still the Knicks’ best asset (with RJ Barrett closing hard). Unlike Randle, Thibodeau also wants to remain employed in New York at the worst.

“It’s the best place in the league to play,” he said, “and look, I’ve been to pretty much every place. I speak from experience. This place is special.”

It just wasn’t anything special this season, not like last season. Thibodeau never connected with Randle, never inspired him to lead or play team first ball, or honor the terms of his $117 million extension.

It wasn’t just Randle’s fault. That was also the fault of the coach. Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau shares the blame for Julius Randle’s mistakes


JOE HERNANDEZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JOE HERNANDEZ joined USTimeToday in 2022 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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