The Knicks opened training camp this week in relative quiet compared to the Brooklyn Nets’ first day. The most controversial story being addressed by the Knicks was the hiring of Rick Brunson as an assistant coach on head coach Tom Thibodeau’s staff.
Brunson was previously an assistant under Thibodeau when the latter was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, the father of Jalen Brunson, the former Dallas Mavericks point guard who was the Knicks’ most prominent acquisition this summer, and current team president Leon Rose’s first NBA client. He also had two stints with the Knicks as a player, appearing in 54 games with the team from 1998-2000 and 15 in the 2000-01 season.
In 2018 Brunson resigned from the Timberwolves after alleged misconduct with several women, including a member of the media. In 2014 he was was arrested, indicted but subsequently acquitted on several charges including sexual abuse of a massage therapist at a fitness club in Vernon Hills, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
On Tuesday, Thibodeau strongly vouched for Brusnon. “I’ve known Rick a long time. I’m very comfortable with who he is,” he maintained. “He’s been on my staff. I’ve known him since he was in college. I feel strongly about him.”
So the focus will be on significantly improving on last season’s 37-45 record, 11th seed in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs, which they failed to do after being the East’s No. 4 seed at 41-31 in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign. They hope the addition of the steady 26-year-old Brunson, who was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and is just entering his prime, will alleviate much of the weight shouldered by Julius Randle the past three seasons and accelerate the development of RJ Barrett as a franchise cornerstone.
While just making it to the postseason would be an accomplishment for the Knicks, the expectations are substantially higher for the Nets, a team that was rife with dysfunction and drama last season that carried over far into the summer. Anything short of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and for many the NBA Finals given they arguably have the most talented roster in the league, will be viewed as an abject disappointment.
The fractured Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs last season under first-year head coach Steve Nash after finishing 44-38, 7th in the East. But now Kevin Durant (12), Kyrie Irving (7) and Ben Simmons (3), who have a combined 22 All-Star selections, all appear to be in a good space physically and mentally, and form a trio whose skills and strengths perfectly complement each other.
“I want to be in a place that’s stable and trying to build a championship culture,” said Durant at the Nets’ media day, explaining why he requested a trade from the Nets in June that never materialized, “and I had some doubts about that and I voiced them to [team owner] Joe [Tsai] and we moved forward from there.”