Now the Knicks have a new challenge: to prove they’re not a fluke.
“Consistency and sustaining what made you win in the first place is always a challenge,” said Stan Van Gundy, a TNT analyst who has coached four N.B.A. teams. His brother, Jeff, was the coach of the Knicks when they last made the finals, in 1999. “But I think the way it needs to be done, and certainly the way Tom will do it, is you continue to do all of those things that got you there in the first place.”
There are plenty of reasons to believe the Knicks’ ceiling is even higher this season: They’ve given Randle more offensive weapons (Walker, Fournier) to take the pressure off him after the team struggled on that end last year. Mitchell Robinson, the 23-year-old center, will, if healthy, add another dimension as a shot blocking rim-runner, which the Knicks missed in the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. And with two other Eastern Conference contending teams in flux as a result of a possible trade (Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers) or an unvaccinated player (the Nets’ Kyrie Irving), there is a real opportunity for the Knicks to level up.
Still, as Ernie Grunfeld, the architect of the Knicks throughout most of the 1990s, can attest, “You need to win.”
“New York is about winning. And they’re doing that,” he added, “New York wants a team that plays hard and leaves everything out on the floor and plays together and plays basketball the right way.”
That’s what his Dot Com Bubble-era Knicks teams gave the crowds at Madison Square Garden, he said.
“It was electric. It was a great place to be,” Grunfeld said. “We were competitive every night. We were a team that other teams feared playing against. They were celebrities everywhere. It was a happening place in New York at the time.”
As much as many N.B.A. observers pay tribute to the blue-collar persona of Thibodeau’s teams, his coaching record is more complicated. He’s had a history of quickly wearing out his welcome and not being able to build off success.