It didn’t take ESPN scribe Adrian Wojnarowski long to make his presence felt anew. In fact, one day was all he needed to reclaim sports headlines; his two-week suspension by the media giant ended Friday, and he was already breaking news that the Knicks had hired Tom Thibodeau to be their next head coach when weekend struck. Which was just fine by him, as well as by all and sundry in hoops circles; he immediately regretted sending a sitting senator an F-bomb via his office email address, leading to his ban and all the #FreeWoj hashtags. Everybody knew the byline and not the body was his rightful place in an article.
It’s fair to argue that Wojnarowski was the beneficiary of both his ties and timing. Had the Knicks been able to come to an agreement with Thibodeau before he returned to work, some other industrious insider could well have hogged the print space. On the flipside, that alternate reality would have added insult to injury as the byproduct of sheer bad luck; the franchise was already on its eighth month without a head coach, the longest in its history. Not that prudence wasn’t required; if anything, ownership had to be extra cautious after cycling through 13 bench tacticians in the last two decades. That it boasts of a single playoff series win in those 20 years, and that it will continue to pay for the services of ousted mentor David Fizdale until 2023, speak volumes of the viability — or lack thereof — of its previous decision-making processes.
To be sure, the job was Thibodeau’s to lose from the outset, and not simply because he once served as a Knicks assistant in the successful Jeff Van Gundy dispensation. Even without counting his close relationship with newly installed team president Leon Rose, he had his own proven accomplishments to tout. Never mind his unceremonious ouster from the Timberwolves early last year; more than anything else, the development was a reflection of the pitfalls of combining front-office and sideline work. Moving forward, he’s likely to cede talent assessment to Rose, executive vice-president William Wesley, and general manager Scott Perry while focusing on player development.
No doubt, more details of the working arrangements will crop up courtesy of Wojnarowski (and other NBA reporters). Meanwhile, he’ll be counted on to provide details on contractual terms between the Knicks and Thibodeau, as negotiated by CAA Sports agent Spencer Breecker. And while the development will serve the culmination of an exhaustive search that required connecting with 11 candidates over the last eight weeks, it’s just the start of the franchise’s climb to respect and respectability.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.