There is obviously some debate over whether Thibs’ “treat every game like it’s Game 7” strategy is a good one, and one of the best critiques of it is why I predicted more wins than most posters (not all, of course. Who could out-optimize swifty, for instance?), which is that we have seen this exact thing happen multiple times in NBA history, where a hard-nosed “do anything to win” coach comes in, turns the defense around, gets more than expected out of a team, then after a season or two, burnout sets in and everything collapses. A relatively recent example was the “Scott Skiles effect,” Skiles turned around Phoenix, Milwaukee and Chicago and burned out in each place. It got to the point where Orlando started burning out midway through his first season there (he was fighting with the GM and wanted to quit midway through that first seaon, but waited until the end of the season to quit). He hasn’t coached since.
So I had no doubt that Thibs, like Skiles, would wring out every win he could get by teaching these guys to play hard-nosed defense.
So why, then, am I not worried about the corresponding burnout? Well, for one thing, I am a bit, just in the sense that the options for improving the talent on this team for next season are not exactly limited, but they’re not quite diverse, either. Four of the key players to getting the Knicks just to mediocrity this season are veteran free agents (Burks, Bullock, Noel and Rose, who makes this list only so far as “being better than Payton” has helped this year), as is Elfrid Payton. Their key area to add talent looks to be the #15/16 picks in the draft, or perhaps a max offer to a restricted Lonzo Ball that might very well just be matched by New Orleans. So I am a bit worried, but there is one key thing in Thibs and the Knicks’ favor… they’re the Knicks.
Which is to say that unlike Milwaukee, Orlando, and even Chicago and Phoenix, just being decent and having a pretty good core is appealing when you’re a big market. Jeff Van Gundy did a similar job in 1995-96, taking the Knicks to a 13-10 record in the back end of the season (along with a playoff series win over a similarly mediocre Cleveland Cavaliers team where he basically just played the starters every minute) where the Knicks were cutting salary to make moves in free agency. And one of the hottest free agents that year, Allan Houston, picked the Knicks over an up and coming Pistons team that had Grant Hill on it, who had won just one less game than the Knicks while being significantly younger with an All-Star centerpiece who would be just 24 the next season.
Now, was even a 34-year-old (in the 96-97 season), clearly declining Patrick Ewing (with a 33-year-old Charles Oakley as the other key player on the team, with the Knicks planning to move on from Anthony Mason either way) still a more appealing centerpiece for free agents back then than this current Knicks team? Maybe, but it’s still true that a mediocre Knick team is more interesting for star players to try to maneuver their way to than a decent Milwaukee team or a decent Orlando team. Let’s say Chris Paul wanted out of OKC this offseason instead of last, and the Suns were the same team they were last year… would he still choose the Suns over the Knicks? I doubt it.
In a way, Thibs is taking a roundabout way to getting where the Nets were when Durant and Kyrie wanted to come there, or where the Clippers were when Kawhi wanted to come there.
There doesn’t seem to be any Kawhi/KD level guys this offseason, which is a major critique of this plan, but who knows who will become available next year, when the Knicks will be able to make a big move before having to decide on resigning Randle and Mitch (if Mitch is still here), so just one more year of mediocrity could be enough to work, so that’s why I’m not too concerned about Thibs burnout.