The past three significant moves made by the Knicks have one common denominator:
Coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over them.
The players brought in had been described prior to their arrival as favorites of Thibodeau’s, and the players sent out are ones he was not fond of.
Love or hate him — and based on the vocal minority on social media, Knicks fans seem split on the coach despite his mostly successful three-year tenure — it is clear that the roster has been constructed to Thibodeau’s specifications.
Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo, selfless two-way players very much in the Thibodeau mold, were brought in. Meanwhile, Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin, incomplete players for whom Thibodeau didn’t find much use, were traded away.
Trading Reddish to Portland for Hart worked well for the Knicks.
Hart provided a jolt, with the Knicks winning their first nine games after his arrival.
He was a pivotal part of the franchise winning its first playoff series in a decade.
The Trail Blazers allowed the enigmatic Reddish to become a free agent and he signed a two-year deal with the Lakers earlier this month.
Though the addition of DiVincenzo has created a glut of guards and small wings, he does improve the Knicks’ offensive profile as a shotmaking guard who can also be a secondary playmaker.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr recently told The Post: “Tom’s going to love him, because Donte is a grinder. He’s gritty and he plays hard every possession.”
Dealing Toppin, however, has left the Knicks without a true backup power forward, a gamble if something were to happen to Julius Randle, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in June.
As limited as Toppin may have been on the defensive end and as an offensive creator, he was a focal part of the Knicks’ strong second unit, an energizer of sorts who could turn momentum with his transition prowess.
But Toppin could never carve out a significant role in his three years as a Knick, in part due to Thibodeau’s refusal to play him with Randle because neither possessed the rim-protecting skill-set his defense relies on.
The moves have elevated the pressure on the 65-year-old Thibodeau, who has led the Knicks to the playoffs twice in three seasons and owns a 125-111 record.
He is just the second Knicks coach since Jeff Van Gundy to post a winning record; Mike Woodson was the other.
But last season raised expectations, to the point that the Knicks now are expected to return to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2011-13.
It’s worth noting the Knicks’ first-round playoff victory over the Cavaliers this past April was Thibodeau’s first postseason series win since 2015.
The Knicks didn’t handle expectations well in 2021-22, Thibodeau’s second season, following up a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2020-21 with a dismal 37-win campaign.
This feels different, in part because the core is young and improving.
Jalen Brunson has emerged as one of the top lead guards in the sport. Randle, despite another iffy postseason, was an All-Star for the second time.
RJ Barrett had a strong postseason.
Immanuel Quickley enjoyed his best season as a pro as the runner-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Quentin Grimes took a major step forward.
The Knicks’ over/under number is 44.5 wins, according to multiple sports books, a six-win improvement from last year at this time.
They seem to be headed in the right direction, even if the roster isn’t championship-caliber yet.
Clearly, the front office believes in Thibodeau.
Their most recent moves are proof of that. But, in the same vein, Thibodeau has to show he is capable of getting this team to the next level. Landing another star would help.
So would stacking another winning season that could lure such a player.
Remember, at this time last year, there were questions about Thibodeau’s future, doubts that grew louder during the Knicks’ poor 10-13 start to the 2022-23 season.
But he answered the bell with some major tweaks that included going with more youth on the perimeter.
Now, he has a roster even more to his liking.
It is imperative, particularly for Thibodeau, that the Knicks don’t take a step back next season.
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