Let’s hope Tom Thibodeau keeps the Nicks promise of merit

Wednesday marks a milestone in New York City. It will be exactly a week since the Knicks committed anything resembling a felony basketball because of your loyalties or feelings as a fan. It represents a full week of idleness for the Knicks, who were last seen blasting by 28 points for the Taxi Nets at Madison Square Garden.

It’s a sign of how bad things are that this is what is going to be an excellent week for the New York Knicks.

The last time we checked in with Tom Thibodeau, he sounded like a guy who had just been told his dog was about to break down, and spoke like a guy who understood he’d be well served and spends some time looking at him, like once another trainer from New York said, “The guy in the glass”.

“We have a chance to restart here,” Thibodeau said last Wednesday, after the Knicks closed the previous All-Star-Game segment of their season program with their disastrous meltdown against Brooklyn. “Everything is on the table now. Everything has to be on merit. You win what you get. You look at everything. How are we going to manage this? If a man is playing well, he is playing. If the team is doing well he has to play. The team should come first for everyone.”

If Thibodeau is legitimately serious about building merit here, that means we’ll see a commitment to Quentin Grimes even when the injured Knicks return. We’ll see Miles McBride get some minutes, even if it means making Kemba Walker or Emmanuel Quikley a seat. That means finally giving Obi Toppin (17.4 points, 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes) a legit look, even if it means pairing him with Julius Randle (and perhaps gently suggesting to him that there’s a general reason he left him wide open outside the three-point line).

Tom Thibodeau
USA Today Sports

That would mean quick hooks for Evan Fournier and Alec Borks as they turn into one of their periodic 1-v9 film nights, and give those minutes to Cam Reddish, who tasked the Knicks with the #1 draft pick and needed to give him a chance to prove he was worth it.

If Thibodeau gets really serious about it, it’s going to be a fundamental change from what we’ve seen so far this season, because there have been so many times he seems more poised to go with what he’s comfortable with — he says, relying on veterans and novices — making the Knicks tick. He often felt that he broke down the combinations that worked during games to force the combinations that should work best but not do so.

There should be two antidotes to Thibodeau basketball’s chronic migraine and they will be explained soon, when Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett return from ankle injuries.

It might be a clear sign of how poorly the roster is built, as much of the Knicks’ hopes, it turns out, were tied up in the 33-year-old Rose, but he was the most consistent player on the team before him. He descended and is the single most trusted lieutenant in Thibodeau’s corps. His return will allow the Knicks to finally enjoy life with a point guard making honest play once again.

Obi Tobin
Getty Images

Barrett’s absence was in its own way more damaging, and on so many levels. The fact that he was so deep in losing a blast when he should have been wearing rights to warm-ups gave gallons of fuel to anti-Thibodeau factions who were beginning to question the management of his game. But then Barrett was playing some of the best basketball of his career — remember, there were only two games earlier that was a 36/8/5 shot and game save (for now, anyway) against the Lakers.

But the return of Rose and Barrett will be the easy part of Tibodo’s schedule in the second half. If what he said last Wednesday reflects his true intent, and isn’t just words to ward off the wolves, then Randle – who has been playing better lately – will appear on the bench when he plays one of his choppy games. This means believing what you see on the field, not hoping for what you want to see.

The Knicks may be a losing cause in the playoffs this year but the rest of the table shouldn’t be a losing cause either. See what’s here. See what you have. Respect what you said about the merit and earn your way. The Knicks have some rehab. It starts with that. It starts with merit.