RJ Barrett opens up about his relationship with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau

Mar 4, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

After one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory, followed by an extremely disheartening year, the future of the New York Knicks and their head coach Tom Thibodeau is shrouded in uncertainty.

Thibodeau has been one of the main focuses of criticism among the Knicks fanbase and reporters due to the team’s performance this past year. While Thibodeau certainly deserves criticism after this past season, there still seems to be a strong bond between the coach and his players.

RJ Barrett, New York’s centerpiece who just enjoyed a big-time third year in the NBA, seemed to reiterate the connection that he has with Thibodeau when he appeared as a guest on JJ Redick’s The Old Man And The Three podcast last Friday.

RJ Barrett discusses the New York Knicks and Tom Thibodeau

Barrett hopping on what is probably the most talked-about NBA podcast was exciting to see. He discussed everything from his Duke days, his love for the Knicks fanbase, his next steps as a player, and his head coach. When asked about his relationship with Thibodeau, Barrett said:

"“That’s my guy, I was actually talking to him yesterday at the facility, he’s really my guy. He’s a great coach, I feel people have a tough time with him because he expects excellence. He expects you to be in there and work every day… A guy like me, I lace them up every day no matter what’s going on I’m out there, so we kind of built that relationship.”"

Barrett continued to reiterate those sentiments of hard work and trust being key in their relationship. He went on to compare Thibodeau to his college coach, Mike Krzyzewski, and discussed their similarities. He said:

"“He’s (Thibodeau) very disciplined, Coach K is like that too. He lets you play, he lets you be yourself. He’s not on you too much, he gives you freedom and he really wants you to succeed. That’s how he and Coach K are similar. He lets you be you.”"

It’s the kind of sentiment we’ve heard from New York players in the past, but perhaps no one’s words hold as much weight as Barrett’s. He has not only asserted himself as the team’s best player but he’s done it with a calm, focused, “no excuses” demeanor that has won the hearts of the Knicks fanbase.

This is why it’s so tricky to properly understand Thibodeau’s New York tenure thus far. The most important component — the team’s success — was fantastic in his first year and horrible in his second.

There are certain decisions, one example being overplaying role players such as Alec Burks out of position, that feel like classic Thibs mistakes.

Then you hear the actual players talk about their love for Thibodeau and it feels like for the first time in a long time, the Knicks have at the very least, started to build a culture. It’s just that their rebuild took on accelerated expectations due to their success last season.

It’s tough to preach culture and process after a year like the one that New York just had. Large contracts to players such as Evan Fournier and Julius Randle may make it feel as if the team’s future has been hampered, but there’s plenty of young talent growing on this roster.

Despite all of the discourse over playing time and youth development throughout the entire season, maybe the young guys actually do have a lot of love for Thibodeau, who has helped them with their game.

It’s certainly a lot better than the development of prior lottery picks Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, who had plenty of playing time in their first few seasons.

Barrett’s sentiment is on one hand encouraging to hear because of the team camaraderie, and on the other hand, only makes things more confusing as to what the Knicks will do with Thibodeau.

A strong relationship with the team’s franchise player is one of the most significant things you can have. For now, it seems like Thibs is here to stay.