Tom Thibodeau is working with a new set of players during the Knicks' voluntary workouts this month. He's also gotten to work with a new coaching staff.
Thibodeau’s staff includes former Jazz assistant Johnnie Bryant, former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne and one-time Knicks head coach Mike Woodson. None of the coaches have been on Thibodeau's previous staffs, with the Chicago Bulls (2010-15) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2016-19). Andy Greer and Dice Yoshimoto, also on Thibodeau's Knicks staff, have worked with Thibodeau in the past.
Thibodeau said on Wednesday that he met Bryant during the Jazz stint. He was impressed by Bryant's ability to teach the game. Bryant is Thibodeau’s top assistant.
"Johnnie's someone I got to know a little bit when I was traveling around," Thibodeau said. "I have great respect for the people in Utah. I've worked with Dennis Lindsey in Houston, I've gotten to know (Jazz head coach) Quin Snyder over the years and I have great respect for what they've done.
"Obviously, when (Timberwolves general manager) Scott Layden was there (in various roles from 1981-99) along with (former Jazz head coach from 1988-11) Jerry Sloan -- they've got a great program there and they've had it that way for a long time.
"The thing that stood out when I went out to Utah and spent time with them was Johnnie's teaching ability. ... I came away very impressed with him."
Bryant is known as a top player development coach; the Knicks haven't had much success in developing young players over the past two decades. Obviously, team president Leon Rose and his group hope to change that under their leadership.
In his past coaching stints, Bryant worked closely in a development role with Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, Jazz point guard Donovan Mitchell, former Jazz/current Boston Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward and former Jazz/current Denver Nuggets power forward Paul Millsap, among others.
Payne was considered one of the top assistant coaches in college basketball. Kentucky head coach John Calipari lauded Payne for his ability to connect with players and develop them, particularly big men.
Thibodeau said he developed a relationship with Payne over the years when they talked about different draft prospects.
“I'd never really saw him teaching on the floor, but I had heard great things about him. ... I’ve known John Calipari a long time and every year I would get Kenny's input on all the draft candidates," Thibodeau said. "I always thought he was very insightful and he knew the players extremely well. so I thought when we had the opportunity to get him that just made a lot of sense on a lot of different levels.
"Obviously, getting to know him has been a big plus also, and for us to have the opportunity to hire both of those guys (Bryant and Payne) I think adds a lot to the staff."
On Woodson, Thibodeau said, "I've known Woody a long time. We have a lot of mutual friends. Getting a chance to be around him on a day to day basis has been great and I love the experience that he's bringing to our staff. ... Having Woody and Andy Greer, I'm very pleased. I think we have great teachers on our staff."
Looking for versatile defenders? Thibodeau was asked about the challenge of defending offense in this era of the NBA. Here's what he said:
"The average amount of threes has shot up over the last three years and we're seeing the personnel on the floor is a lot different," Thibodeau said. "We're usually seeing a point guard, three wings and a center now. It's more or less position-less basketball, so you're seeing changing defenses some, but I also think people have put a premium on players that can defend multiple positions, so I think that's creeping into it as well."
For those reading between the lines, maybe the Knicks will prioritize versatile defenders in the draft or free agency.
Changing schedule: NBA commissioner Adam Silver told CNN on Tuesday that next season may not start until January. So Thibodeau may have plenty of time between now and 2020-21 training camp.
Thibodeau was asked about dealing with all of the uncertainty around the schedule.
"I think that's a big challenge in the NBA -- how quickly can you adapt? -- because things always change in the league, whether it's trade, free agency, an injury," Thibodeau said. "You have to adapt quickly. So for us the focus has to be on the guys who are here. And that's what we’re doing.
"So everyday we're thinking about how we can improve as a team and how we can improve individually. And we want that to be our focus. We want to stack days together. We know it starts with fundamentals. We have to build that base and then we’ll take it from there."