Hiring of coach Tom Thibodeau puts Knicks’ rebuild ahead of Bulls’

In hiring the former Bulls coach, the Knicks sent a loud message that their days of being an NBA punch line are over.

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Former Bulls coach Tom Thobodeau is heading to the Knicks.

Former Bulls coach Tom Thobodeau is heading to the Knicks.

AP

Bulls guard Zach LaVine’s eyes lit up as a smile came across his face. He was excited to talk about a coach he refers to as ‘‘my guy.’’

‘‘[His] style works,’’ LaVine said in February. ‘‘He’s not a beat-around-the-bush type of guy. . . . Once you buy into his coaching, I mean, look at the track record. It’s pretty damn good.’’

It was the heartiest endorsement LaVine has given a coach since joining the Bulls in 2017. Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking about Bulls coach Jim Boylen.

No, he was talking about former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who traded him from the Timberwolves to Chicago in the deal for Jimmy Butler. Three seasons later, LaVine still was raving about his experience of playing under Thibodeau.

‘‘Mr. Thibs,’’ LaVine said at the time. ‘‘He should damn well be coaching somewhere, that’s for sure.’’

Now it appears as though he will be. Thibodeau and the Knicks reportedly agreed to terms on a five-year contract Saturday.

The hiring not only will bring the Knicks back to NBA relevance, but it catapults their rebuild ahead of the Bulls’.

That would have been crazy to say a few months ago, but no organization has done more to reinvent itself during that time than the Knicks. They hired longtime agent Leon Rose as their president, then added William ‘‘World Wide Wes’’ Wesley to the front office as an executive.

Those were outside-the-box hires, especially when compared with the Bulls landing Arturas Karnisovas as their executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as their general manager — two smart and much-needed moves.

Where Rose and Wesley will be dangerous as a duo is in free agency, especially considering the relationships they have built with NBA players. (That isn’t to say Karnisovas and Eversley are lacking in that area, given Eversley’s background with Nike.)

Where the Bulls seem to be ahead of the Knicks is with the respective rosters. But considering the Bulls had only one more victory than the Knicks this season, is their roster really that much better?

Then look at the salary structure of each team. The Knicks have a serious advantage in roster flexibility over the Bulls this offseason and looking ahead to what might be a historic free-agent class in 2021.

And even if the Bulls decide to move on from Boylen and land 76ers assistant Ime Udoka or Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, neither measures up to Thibodeau, who is among the elite coaches in the game.

Need evidence? In Thibodeau’s last 15 seasons as a head coach or associate head coach, his teams have a .643 winning percentage. In his five seasons as the Bulls’ coach, the team had a .647 winning percentage (255-139) and led the NBA in winning percentage in close games at .623 (66-40).

Boylen has a .317 winning percentage and a locker room of players openly questioning his ability to coach.

With the hiring of Thibodeau, it’s likely the Knicks will be a bigger threat in the Eastern Conference than the Bulls in a couple of years. That’s what Thibodeau does: He makes the irrelevant relevant and turns losers into winners — quickly.

Ask LaVine. ‘‘Mr. Thibs’’ doesn’t play around.

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