When Tom Thibodeau landed his first head coaching job, the Chicago Bulls entered the 2010-11 season with modest expectations following a 41-41 season and a first-round playoff exit.
Somebody forgot to tell Thibodeau, who always likes to say the magic is in the work.
Fueled by Thibodeau’s relentless attention to detail and prodigious work ethic, Derrick Rose’s ascendancy from All-Star to NBA most valuable player, and solid depth led by Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, those Bulls finished 62-20 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Thibodeau earned the Red Auerbach Trophy for his Coach of the Year honors.
History can repeat itself.
Few predicted the 2020-21 New York Knicks to accomplish much of anything. But again, Thibodeau didn’t get the memo, which is why he earned his second Auerbach Trophy and Coach of the Year award in voting announced Monday night by the NBA.
Thibodeau narrowly edged out the Phoenix Suns’ Monty Williams in voting from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.
Thibodeau, who led the Knicks to a tie for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference (41-31) and homecourt advantage in a first-round series they lost to the Hawks, drew 43 first-place votes and 351 total votes. Williams landed two more first-place votes with 45 but finished with 340 points.
The 11-point difference between the first- and second-place finishers marks the smallest margin of victory since this voting format began in the 2002-03 season. Utah’s Quin Snyder, who guided the Jazz to the league’s best record, finished third with 161 points and 10 first-place votes.
Thibodeau also became the first coach in NBA history to win this award in his first season with two different franchises. According to the league’s news release, Cotton Fitzsimmons won the award in his first season as Kansas City Kings’ head coach in 1978-79 and in his first season of his second tenure with the Suns in 1988-89.
The Knicks reached the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13. They finished 21-45 last season.
Unsurprisingly, Thibodeau, who served as a Knicks assistant among his many assistant coaching stops before taking the Bulls job, significantly improved the team’s defense. The Knicks led the league in points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage and finished fourth in defensive rating. Last season, the Knicks finished 17th or lower in all categories.
Similar to Thibodeau’s influence on Deng, Julius Randle also made a huge jump this season, earning his first All-Star selection and the NBA's Most Improved Player award. Thibodeau also leaned on old friends and familiar faces in Rose and Taj Gibson, the former of which was a finalist for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Thibodeau is the 10th coach to win the Auerbach Trophy more than once and the eighth to do so with different teams.