Coaching Search: Tom Thibodeau

Following on the heels on Dennis’ post on Coach K yesterday (unlike Dennis, I’m not even going to attempt to spell his surname), I’m going to take a look at Tom Thibodeau, someone I’ve been slowly starting to come around on as a candidate to the point where I’m starting to think he would be a very smart choice for the organization.

Currently, the assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, he’s also been an assistant with the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks. A disciple of Jeff Van Gundy, who’s a candidate in his own rite, Thibodeau is all about defense, defense and defense. And as the Celtics and the Magic are proving in the playoffs currently, defense rules in the Eastern Conference.  Thibodeau’s defensive schemes were credited in limiting Kobe Bryant’s offensive production in the 2008 NBA Finals, and I think a case could be made that Thiboeau’s planning played a role in LeBron James and the Cavs demise last week. Off the top of my head, the Nets haven’t had a head coach that was this dedicated to the art of defense since the late Chuck Daly in the early 90s.

And while the Nets ranked at the bottom of nearly every significant offensive category this past season, the team lost countless games throughout the season where they couldn’t make a defensive stop. They let big players make big plays (Dwyane Wade in November, Chris Paul in New Orleans in January) frequently, and demonstrated very little defensive IQ as individuals and as a team. Devin Harris has regressed tremendously as a defender since joining the Nets, Brook Lopez should seemingly be a better defender than what he is, and Yi Jianlian looks like a lost cause, despite having the length and strength to match up with most opposing PFs.

So what are the strikes against Thibodeau? He has no head coaching experience, a problem that has plagued the organization for the past three head coaches. Thibodeau has such a good reputation as an assistant, you have to wonder why someone hasn’t given him a shot as a head coach yet. Then again, as a Jets fan, I can speak to the potential value of hiring a lifelong assistant who has been overlooked by the rest of the league.

The other potential issues with Thibodeau is of the potential names that are out there, he’s probably the least sexiest. Talking pragmatically, this shouldn’t matter, but will Mikhail Prokhorov’s first executive decision be to hire a lifelong assistant that few casual fans have ever heard of? There are reports out there that say Prokhorov is entrusting Rod Thorn to make the best decision from a team building perspective. Thibodeau fits that bill. But Prokhorov is a big game hunter, and if Coach K or Phil Jackson or some other big name can be had for only money, I can’t see how Prokhorov resists the sexier choice.